The End of the Ball depicts an important event of the opera season in most large European cities. This was the costume or masked ball, the Baile de Mascaras, which the Spanish poster in the upper left of the painting announces. For this gala the central stalls of opera houses were covered for dancing, the foyer shielded by painted screens, and the stage used for a sumptuous banquet. Such balls were a tradition dating back to the sixteenth century carnival (García Ramos’ home city of Seville has long been known for its impressive festivals and public parties). Events were usually held at the end of a performance season, although some theaters turned over their stages several times throughout a season; the often-scandalous affairs generated valuable publicity. Regular opera patrons attended along with artists, models, house singers and musicians. While men were expected to dress in traditional evening clothes, women were allowed greater license in costume; some dressed as characters from the best-known operas, sometimes competing in best-costume contests. The vivid sensual appeal of the masked ball is famously described in Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera (1910) in which Raoul explains the overwhelming experience as “gayer, noisier, more Bohemian” than anything he had ever experienced, as he “climbed the grand staircase at five minutes to twelve, yet did not linger to look at the motley dresses displayed all the way up the marble steps, one of the richest settings in the world, allowed no facetious mask to draw him into a war of wits, replied to no jests and shook off the bold familiarity of a number of couples who had already become a trifle too gay.”
In García Ramos’ work such a party’s aftermath is spilling down the theater’s staircase and onto the streets, as the crowd leaves the theater at early dawn. A woman still wearing her bright-pink mask appears to be the belle of the ball, loosely holding one escort’s arm while turning her attention to another. Others push behind her, ready to return home. Mixing with the high society guests are members of the opera troupe. One singer lurks at the compositions’ edge, dressed in the traditional black and white, clownish costume of the sad Pierrot, a stock figure from the commedia dell’arte. Surrounding the central group of revelers are working folk: great-coated doormen waiting for the people to leave so they may go home to rest, while a young boy impishly looks out as the viewer as he waits to earn a bit of money by holding umbrellas or cloaks for exiting patrons. Their huddled postures and somber costume colors stand apart from the gaiety of the ball goers, contrasting the fantasy world of the wealthy with the harsh reality of those who serve them. Despite this element of social commentary, overall, The End of the Ball intends to provide visual pleasure, demonstrating García Ramos’ embrace of the truly international style of painting, which had evolved in Europe by 1890. Paris was the center of the art world, and the style that developed there, incorporating aspects of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, is evident in the present work’s complex composition, lush color palette, and lively brushwork. Such technique was employed by García Ramos in capturing on canvas what Leroux explained was “the fun, here, waxed fast and furious” of the masked ball.
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