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The Mante Family

c. 1884
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, French, 1834 - 1917
Edgar Degas was an insider at the Paris Opéra, acquainted with musicians, composers, writers, librettists (a person who writes the words for an opera), choreographers, and of course, the ballerinas. Whether he was backstage, in the classroom, or in the audience, he always had his sketchbook. From his sketches Degas would produce portraits of noted Parisians as well as unknown dancers.
This pastel shows two young dancers standing with their mother. In the nineteenth century, young girls needed an escort to attend classes and rehearsals. Mothers acted as chaperones as well as providing practical help with costumes, shoes, sashes, and hair. Here the Mantes are probably standing in a hallway outside an examination room. Both sisters' feet are in a "turned out" position, reminding us they are both ballet dancers.
Degas knew the Mante family well; the father, Louis-Amédée Mante, was a double-bass player in the Opéra orchestra, and the young girls, Suzanne and Blanche, were students in the ballet classes. The sisters would later graduate to become members of the corps de ballet and perform on the Opéra stage. Like the family of the model for Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1986-26-11), the Mantes lived in the same neighborhood as Degas, the Montmartre section of Paris.
Degas usually made sketches and studies in preparation for his pastels and paintings of ballet subjects, but no such studies for this work have survived. It is possible this family portrait may have been created from a photograph taken by the girls' father, who was also an innovative photographer who contributed to the development of color photography. Degas is known to have used photographs as the basis for other portraits.






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