Ensor studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts of Brussels from 1877 to 1880 alongside many of the young artists who would become part of the avant-garde group Les XX—Fernand Khnopff, Rudolph Wystman and Willy Schlobach and, for a brief moment in 1880, Vincent van Gogh. It was during this time that Ensor was introduced to the Rousseau family through Theo Hannon, who was also a student at the academy. Ernest Rousseau, a professor of physics and geometry at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, his wife Mariette and his son Ernest-Joseph, would become close confidants of Ensor and appear in many of his early paintings. The family provided the young artist with a supportive circle of intellectuals and Ensor frequently attended Ernest’s progressive salon. Ernest Rousseau was the first owner of the present work, likely acquired from the artist shortly after its creation. The work then passed to the collection of Édouard Hannon, Ernest’s brother-in-law, and has remained with the family.
After 1900, as Ensor’s fame grew, collectors began to request replicate versions of his early compositions now held in private collections. Ensor therefore created a small series of secondary paintings, between 1908 and 1910, which are modeled on earlier compositions, changing minor details or the scale to differentiate the two works. This was the case with Les Ballerines (La Danse), a secondary version of which was made in 1908 for the gallerist Herbert von Garvens-Garvensburg.
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