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Dancers in the Wings, c. 1876-1878

Edgar Degas

French, 1834-1917
Pastel, gouache, distemper, and "essence" on paper, mounted on board
27-1/4 x 19-3/4 in. (69.2 x 50.2 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation
M.1977.06.P
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

Combining pastel, pastel paste, gouache, distemper (glue-based paint), and peinture à l’essence (conventional paint drained of its oil), this picture is among the most technically sophisticated in Degas’s oeuvre. Color is applied wet, with a brush, for the reverse of a stage flat at left and in rapid, liquid skeins for the ornaments in the dancers’ hair, but dry pastel, rubbed over the bare laid paper, creates an airy effect in the tutus. Degas seems to have begun the composition with the dancer in pink and built it outward, adding nine strips of paper around the edges to make room for her companion, dressed as a butterfly. This costume has been identified with a specific ballet, La Source (The Spring), danced at the Paris Opéra in the 1875–76 season.

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