For many years it was assumed that Degas’ depiction of two dancers on the stage did not represent any specific performance and was meant as a general representation of ballet.

However recent research has shown that the costumes of the dancers, especially the one on the right, match the bell-shaped tutus and hairpieces with roses of the dancers in the Ballet des roses, a ballet section added to Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni (1787) for performances at the Paris Opera House from 1866 onwards.

The scenery in the background suggests foliage, which would have been appropriate to the garden setting of the Ballet des roses.

The new expanded version of Don Giovanni was performed more than fifty times at the Paris Opéra between 1872 and 1874, so Degas’ subject is very much engaged with contemporary life.

The painting was shown at the dealer Durand-Ruel’s London gallery in 1874, where it was purchased by Captain Henry Hill of Brighton.

Find out more

Impressionists and Post Impressionists
With Dr Caroline Campbell, Schroder Foundation Curator of Paintings.

Watch the movie [9:37 min]