Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917)
Oil on canvas
32 3/4 x 30 1/4 in. (83.2 x 76.8 cm)
Signed (lower left): Degas
Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1986 (1987.47.1)
When this work and its variant in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, were painted in the mid-1870s, they constituted Degas's most ambitious figural compositions except for history paintings. Some twenty-four women, ballerinas and their mothers, wait while a dancer executes an "attitude" for her examination. Jules Perrot, one of the best known dancers and ballet masters in Europe, conducts the class. The imaginary scene is set in a rehearsal room in the old Paris Opéra—a poster for Rossini's Guillaume Tell is on the wall beside the mirror—even though the building had just burned to the ground.
The painting was commissioned in 1872 as part of an arrangement between Degas and the singer and collector Jean-Baptiste Faure. It was one of only a few commissions that the artist ever accepted, and the painting was delivered in November 1874 after two years of intermittent work.