Playing on

Before the Performance

Edgar Degas1896

National Galleries of Scotland

National Galleries of Scotland

This is a relatively small canvas for Degas’s late work, and indeed, some of the dancers’ poses look back to his earlier ballet pictures from the 1870s. Here, a group of dancers are on stage preparing themselves for the impending performance: they practise their positions and one ballerina stoops to tie her shoe. The dancers are not individuals, but faceless memories of a scene he had once observed. The vivid colours are vibrant and unrealistic, evoking the surreal effects produced by the gas lights of the theatre. Pools of shadow on the large expanse of stage are also rather abstract, and it is clear that by the late 1890s, Degas was far less concerned with naturalism than in his former years. His treatment of the oil paint is very delicate, almost as if it were gouache.

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  • Title: Before the Performance
  • Creator: Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas
  • Date Created: 1896
  • Physical Dimensions: w625 x h476 cm (Without frame)
  • Credit Line: Presented by Sir Alexander Maitland in memory of his wife Rosalind, 1960
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: http://www.nationalgalleries.org/shop/commercial-and-non-commercial-reproduction/article/copyright-and-reproduction-of-works
  • External Link: National Galleries of Scotland
  • Medium: Oil on paper laid on canvas


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