Lot 26
  • 26

Edgar Degas

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Edgar Degas
  • Le Ballet
  • Stamped Degas (lower right)
  • Oil on cradled panel


Estate of the artist (and sold: Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, Atelier Degas, 3ème Vente, December 11-13, 1918, lot 19)

Nunès et Fiquet, Paris

Manuel Schmit, Paris

Acquired from the above in the late 1990s 


Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1947, vol. III, no. 1092, illustrated p. 631

Catalogue Note

By the time Degas painted Le Ballet, he had been immersed in the world of opera and dance for at least twenty-five years. As Jill de Vonyar and Richard Kendall indicate, in fragmentary notebook drawings made between 1860 and 1862, there are already suggestive references to contemporary dance and opera productions (J. de Vonyar & R. Kendall, Degas and the Dance, New York, 2002, p. 15). During the next two decades the Opera on the rue Le Peletier (destroyed by fire in 1873) and the much grander building that replaced it in 1875, the Palais Garnier, were to become indispensable to Degas’ social and working life. Not only were the practice rooms and the stage productions the subject of many of his most important paintings and pastels during this period but many of his closest friends were either musicians or abonnes of the opera. “At times Degas’ engagement with the routines of the opera can appear encyclopedic and his advertisement of the fact almost shameless” (ibid., p. 14). Much of his activity occurred backstage and his studies of training sessions in the classrooms and of numerous personalities from the company give a remarkably complete view of the workings of this complex organization. Once on the other side of the footlights, studies of the stage from the orchestra pit gave an unusually intimate view of current productions.  His studies of the spatial complexities of the theatrical experience were no less exhaustive. “Between 1875 and 1885 we can trace his increased mobility within the theater, moving from one level of seats to another, approaching and retreating from the stage, and investigating extreme and previously unexplored angles of view” (ibid., p. 98).

In Le Ballet four ballerinas are captured on point in brightly colored garb. Gliding in front of a painted backdrop with a landscape of rolling hills, the stage is separated from the viewer by the bulbous head of a cello. In Degas’ earliest paintings of dance performances he often incorporated orchestral or audience elements into his scenes; indeed some of his earliest works on this subject center around the orchestra and patrons rather than around the dancers as in L’Orchestre de l’Opera (Lemoisne 186) & Ballet de Robert le Diable (Lemoisne 294) now in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay and the Victoria and Albert Museum respectively. Le Ballet dates from 1891 and, while Degas would continue to depict dancers for the rest of his life, it appears to be, along with Danseuse, Scène de ballet (Lemoisne 1091), now at the Hamburg Kunsthalle, the last composition of dancers which includes components of the orchestra.