Unique Use of Impressionism with Other Styles in The Rehearsal by Edgar Degas

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‘The Rehearsal’ was one of Degas’ first paintings of the ballet; his interest in the subject was perpetual, lasting until the end of his life. I find this work intriguing because of its atmosphere of immediacy. The viewer is a fly on the wall, peering in on this class unnoticed by the dancers but noticing all the nuances of the painting; from the dancer hidden by the spiral staircase to the feet descending the stairs. It is as though this is a snapshot in a place of bustling activity; there are people partially obscured by objects, but each figure is independent and unique e.g. the dancers have different coloured sashes – in this way, Degas offsets the obsession with uniformity that is intrinsic to ballet. The figures are not posed for a picture but are chaotic and half-seen, as they are in reality.

Beyond the staircase a group of dancers perform a routine of arabesques. Girls relax with their chaperones in the foreground on the right. At the far end of the room is the ballet master, Jules Perrot. It is interesting to note that this room never existed in the Palais Garnier but belonged to the Opera Choiseul which had burned down years previously; Perrot is also misplaced because Degas took this figure from a postcard when Perrot was working for the imperial ballet in St Petersburg[1]. However convincing the fluency of the composition might be, Degas rarely worked from life, instead preferring to use sketches, memory and imagination to create masterpieces. When studying the ballet, amid the chaos he found endless repetition of standard movements, practising these in his studio until the ratios and tonal variances were refined; this seems a fitting metaphor for Degas’ pursuit of authenticity – he was showing the banal truth of the ballet hidden by the Opera’s dazzling stage facades.

The thing that strikes me most about this painting is how masterfully exact the lighting of the room is. A dull palette of pale greys and browns mute the natural light filtering through the windows. The tone is sepia-like giving a dusty effect; similarly, the shade on the walls portrays peeling paint. Degas demonstrates his understanding of how the humble, urban condition of the classroom was more important to the dancer’s skill than the stage of the Palais Garnier where she performed. Impressionists were fascinated by banality, urbanity and movement, (although Degas rejected this label), yet ballet was an irregularity at this time; when new artistic movements were rising, e.g. impressionism, realism and romanticism, ballet remained a classicist symbol[2]. Portrayal of such composure required true understanding of the art form; thus, Degas’ work drew connections between classicism and realism. While faces are only lightly sketched, there is a detailed focus on the limbs which are vague but placed incredibly precisely. He depicts life without photographic accuracy, but a satisfying equilibrium is achieved through a meticulously structured composition using strong diagonals and symmetries. Energy and dynamism dominates parts of the work but elsewhere there is poise and composure; it is chaotic and yet still. There is no evidence of interaction between Degas and the dancers – the painting is reserved and vague about their characteristics. But perhaps there is a more profound relationship between the artist and his favourite subject than meets the eye. Degas invigorates an empty canvas just as a ballerina dances on an empty stage. There is a playfulness, an uncertainty, almost an unbalance – but the painting is balanced in this split-second nevertheless.

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Unique Use of Impressionism with Other Styles in The Rehearsal by Edgar Degas. (2020, December 28). WritingBros. Retrieved May 27, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/unique-use-of-impressionism-with-other-styles-in-the-rehearsal-by-edgar-degas/
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