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The Ballet Class
The Ballet Class, c. 1880
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, French
Oil on canvas
32 3/8 x 30 1/4 inches (82.2 x 76.8 cm) Framed: 41 9/16 x 39 5/8 x 2 5/8 inches (105.6 x 100.6 x 6.7 cm)
Purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, 1937
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Let’s Look

  • Who are the people in this painting? How can you tell? How many are there? Do any of them look similar?
  • Look at the large, empty space in the middle of the painting. Is it vertical, horizontal, or diagonal?
  • Which figures and parts of the room are cropped (cut off)? Which ones overlap?
  • Where is the light in this room coming from? Do you think there is a window or a light outside the frame?

Hands-on Activity

  • Degas composed this painting by clustering and overlapping figures, and by cropping some of the figures and parts of the rehearsal hall. Look how the seated woman in the foreground overlaps the dancer standing just behind her; she, in turn, overlaps the ballet instructor and the dancer with the pink sash. What is cropped on the right side of the painting? Find magazine pictures of groups of people and use two L-shaped pieces of paper or cardboard to frame and crop parts of them.

Let’s Look Again

  • How does Degas use colors, brushstrokes, lines, and shadows to enliven the empty areas of the wall and floor?
  • Degas organized his composition in sets of rectangles and triangles. The yellow wall is a rectangle. If you drew a line connecting the bright yellow sash, the pink sash, and the dark blue dress, you would make a triangle. Look for other geometric shapes or groupings.
  • Did you notice how much the bald head of the ballet master looks like the mother’s hat? Do you find anything else humorous about this painting? Are there serious aspects? How would you describe the mood in this ballet class? Make your own list of words describing the mood, then compare and discuss your list with a classmate.

Writing Activities

  • Pretend that you are as wealthy as Alexander Cassatt and that you would like to commission a painting by Edgar Degas. Write a letter to Monsieur Degas telling him why you admire his work and what theme you would like to see depicted in the painting.
  • Imagine that some of the figures in this painting come to life. Give them names and describe what they might be thinking. Think about what might have happened just before this scene and what might happen next. Look for clues in the painting and use your imagination as you write.

For more information, please contact The Division of Education by phone at (215) 684-7580, by fax at (215) 236-4063, or by e-mail at .

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