About This Artwork

Edgar Degas
French, 1834-1917

Ballet at the Paris Opéra, 1877

Pastel over monotype on cream laid paper
352 x 706 mm (plate); 359 x 719 mm (sheet)
Signed recto, lower left, in white pastel: "Degas"

Gift of Mary and Leigh Block, 1981.12

One of the nineteenth century’s most innovative artists, Edgar Degas often combined traditional techniques in unorthodox ways. In Ballet at the Paris Opéra, the artist creatively joined the monotype technique, rarely used in his time, with the fragile medium of pastel. Described as “the powder of butterfly wings,” pastel was the perfect medium to illustrate the onstage metamorphosis of spindly young dancers into visions of beauty as perfect and short-lived as butterflies. This work, executed on one of the widest monotype plates ever used by the artist, bears Degas’s characteristically cropped forms and odd vantage points, which effectively convey the immediacy of the scene. The view is from the orchestra pit, with the necks of the double basses intruding into the dancers’ zone. The central dancer is in fifth position, en pointe, but the random placement of the corps de ballet, with the dancers’ free-flowing hair, suggests a rehearsal rather than a performance. The Paris Opéra was the official school of the first state-supported ballet, the Académie Royale de Danse, created in 1661.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Third Impressionist Exhibition 1877.

Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, "Exposition Degas," April 12-May 2, 1924, p. 63, cat. 113.

Washington D.C., The National Gallery of Art, "100 European Paintings and Drawings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Leigh B. Block," May 4-June 11, 1967, cat. 6; traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, September 21-November 2, 1967.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Degas in The Art Institute of Chicago," July 19-September 23, 1984, pp. 72-74, cat. 31 (ill.), cat. by Richard R. Brettell and Suzanne Folds McCullagh.

Detroit Institute of Arts, "Degas and the Dance," October 20, 2002-January 12, 2003, p. 95, 111, 165-167, 291, pl. 183 (ill. p.166), cat. by Jill DeVonyar and Richard Kendall.

Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, “The Impressionists: Master Paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago,” June 29-November 2, 2008, p. 91, cat. 40 (ill.), cat. by Gloria Groom and Douglas Druick.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Degas: At the Track, On the Stage", July 1, 2015-February 26, 2016, no cat.

Publication History

Paul André Lemoisne, Degas et son Oeuvre (Paris, 1946), no. 513 (ill.).

Jean Sutherland Boggs, “Degas Monotypes at the Fogg,” The Burlington Magazine 110:784 (July 1968), pp. 429-430 (ill).

Fiorella Minervino, L'Opera Completa di Degas (Milan, 1970), no. 724.

George T.M. Shackelford, Degas: The Dancers, exh. cat. (Washington D.C., 1984), p. 30, fig. 1.6.

The New Paintings: Impressionism 1874-1886, exh. cat. (San Francisco, 1986), p. 204.

Richard Brettell, French Impressionists (Chicago, 1987), pp. 20-22, and 117 (ill.).

Jean Sutherland Boggs and Anne Maheux, Degas Pastels (New York, 1992), p. 52, pl. 7.

James N. Wood and Sally Ruth May, The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide (Chicago, 1993), p. 214 (ill.).

Jean Sutherland Boggs, Degas (Chicago, 1996), pp. 30-31, 33(ill. detail), 82 (ill.), and 108, pl. 11.

James N. Wood, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, 2000), p.49 (ill.).

James N. Wood and Sally Ruth May, The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide (Chicago, 2003), p. 214 (ill.).

Maria Teresa Benedetti, Degas Classico e Moderno, exh. cat. (Rome, 2004), p. 233.

Ownership History

Albert Hecht (1842–1889), Paris; by descent to his wife, Mme. Albert Hecht (née Mathilde Oulman), Paris, to at least, April 1924 [Paris 1924 exh. cat.]; by descent to her daughter, Suzanne Hecht (later Mme. Emannuel Pontremoli; died 1956), Paris, by 1939 [Lemoisne 1946]. Mary and Leigh Block, Chicago, by May 1967 [Washington DC 1967 exh. cat.]; given to the Art Institute, 1981.

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