1848 – 1907
Industrial Revolution II

Degas' The Dance Class


Edgar Degas, The Dance Class, oil on canvas, 1874 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker, Dr. Beth Harris


Degas, Dance Class, 1874 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas—who will later contract his name to Degas—is one of the most beloved artists of all time. When there is a Degas exhibition, it becomes a major event. Visitors crowd the galleries and the gift shops do a brisk business selling scarves, umbrellas, and notebooks printed with details from the artist's paintings and drawings of ballerinas. And that's the subject that people want. Yes, of course his bathers and race horses are popular, still it is his dancers that have captured the public's imagination. By the way, Degas hated the fact that he was known as the "painter of dancers" Still, he did return to this theme throughout his career. I find it remarkable that while people see his extraordinary use of line, light, and composition they so often miss the less savory aspects of these images.

Your Comments (4)

Previous Comments

Kelsie wrote on Thursday, March 10, 2011

I am not usually such a fan of the work of the Impressionists, but there is something about Degas' dancers that I find so compelling. They are depicted so honestly, as if we just peeked into their dressing room unexpectedly. I enjoy the fact that although there is no precise narrative to The Dance Class (as there might have been in the works displayed in the salons) there are still clear details which speak to the goings-on of this period. For example, the cityscape reflected in the mirror, the notion of performance as leisure, the snapshot quality of the composition. These are all elements that help the viewer put the work into context.

Ktae wrote on Monday, March 21, 2011

Degas is a great artist and this picture is outstanding!!! You really hepled with my art project!! :D

Shar wrote on Wednesday, October 03, 2012

So is Degas a Realist or an Impressionist? Here he is listed under the Realism category but he helped organize the first Impressionist exhibit.

Samantha Landry wrote on Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Degas’s pastel drawings and specifically his oil painting such as The Dance Class, have always inspired my personal art practice due to his use of dramatic lighting and color. However, beyond the beauty of this work, Degas has created a voyeuristic gaze and experience for its viewers. Degas has implied a perspective that suggests that we are looking into an activity in which the figures (ballerinas) are unaware of our presence. And in reference to the term voyeurism, we in some way are forced to feel as though we are receiving pleasure from gazing upon the unconscious figure. Therefore, we the viewers are in some way objectifying the ballerinas with our gaze, which is problematic.

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