Degas frequented the ballet and opera, where he found subjects not only in performance but also within the unexpected frames created by the angles of stage wings and practice-room mirrors.
He never accepted the label impressionist, and his momentary, snapshot-like views result, not from spontaneous improvisation, but from deliberate arrangement. An avid photographer, his compositions were often influenced by that new medium. Here, for example, the figures are clustered to the left, some cut off at the picture edge. We cannot even be certain that it is four dancers we see - perhaps, instead, this is a single figure, moving as in the sequential photographs of running horses and men by Eadweard Muybridge
The sketchy background of the stage set, painted in a broad, almost blurry manner, is typical of Degas’ late works, but he trains a sudden sharp focus on the dancers’ backs. Our eye follows the linked movements of their arms, as Degas described in a sonnet: “The ribbon of her steps twists and knots….”
[Oil on canvas, 151.1 x 180.2 cm]