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Ballet from an Opera Box
Ballet from an Opera Box, c. 1884
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, French
Pastel on paper
Sheet: 25 3/4 x 19 7/8 inches (65.4 x 50.5 cm)
John G. Johnson Collection, 1917
Cat. 969
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About This Pastel

The setting for this pastel is the Palais Garnier Opéra House, where you can still attend performances today. The Palais Garnier is famous for its opulent and luxurious interior. However, instead of focusing on this richly ornamented space, Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917) concentrates on the colorful dancers, the theatrical lighting, and the audience’s overwhelming visual experience.

A finely dressed woman rests her arm on a balcony railing and looks over her shoulder to watch the performance from a box seat above the stage. A dancer in a bright yellow and orange costume is taking a bow. Degas portrays the spectacle from a disorienting point of view, cutting off the central figures with other figures or with the edges of the picture frame.

He loved using pastel because he could scribble lines but also use his fingers to smudge broad areas of color—the pastel was soft and malleable and it did not dry hard like paint. Today the word “pastel” is often associated with pale shades of colors, but Degas liked to use strong vibrant hues to capture the effects of light and shadow.
 

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