In 1874, Degas’ father died, and it emerged that Degas’ brother René had built up enormous business debts. Degas was forced to sell the family home and his art collection. He suddenly became entirely financially dependent on sales of his own paintings.

Degas’ eyesight was found to be defective during rifle training at the start of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, and it deteriorated throughout his life. Two Dancers on the Stage comes from the years during which he could still see clearly, but many of Degas’ later works use much broader brushstrokes and darker tones, perhaps due to his worsening eyesight.

Degas often used sculpture as a means of trying out ideas. On his death, he left a number of fragile wax sculptures in his studio: these were clearly never intended to be finished pieces in their own right, although they have now been cast in bronze and a number of them are in the Courtauld’s collection.