Art Paper on “The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage”

“The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage”


The artwork, The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage, was composed by Edgar Degas, a French artist in 1874. The medium of the composition is oil that is freely mixed with turpentine. There are traces of watercolor and a paste that is used to draw a cream-colored wove on paper. All these materials are then mounted on canvas. At the MMA, the artwork measures 54.3 by 73 cm. The artwork has been classified as a drawing. This masterpiece by Degas has confused many artists in the past decades. This is attributed to the similarity of scenes in the composition and how precise relationships have been established to achieve unity. The artwork follows the guidelines and styles of impressionism movement. According to visual analysts, it is the first largest, painting to have appeared in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 (Degas, 2010). The two other artworks that appeared alongside this are displayed in the metropolitan collection of art. Distinctively, The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage artwork is believed to have preceded another version of pastes, which artists opine was more freely handled (Degas, 2010).  Degas’s preparation in the composition of the art is well anchored on how he adequately prepared for each object in the drawing, ranging from the dancers on the background, foreground, and the woman seen to be yawning next to the stage. My visit to the museum was successful, and my attention was drawn to this artwork.

Description and Analysis

Visiting the museum was exciting having known Degas for so long. I was somewhat habituated with his artistic charms, and that made acknowledge and appreciate the greatness of his works. He knew how to play with forms, lines to structure artworks that could communicate diverse themes. I did visit galleries and exhibitions with the MMA to have a glimpse of some of his artworks. The place was overcrowded, but I could not hide my admiration for Degas’ artworks.  My attention was immediately drawn towards The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage. I was completely blown away by the serenity of the place and the artwork. It was an epitome of beauty. Specifically, this artwork was daring, dynamic, and combined all the aspects of radical foreshortening of the vast areas of the composition. Before visiting the exhibition, I was familiar with Degas’ artworks longer than I could remember. This artwork made me feel that I had met him for the first time. Instead of just appreciating this masterpiece, I decided, as part of my education, to discuss The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage due to how I was overwhelmed by it.

The artist wanted to depict the beauty of the ballet and dancers that successfully made performances toward the beginning of the modern world. My admiration for this artwork is based on how the artist depicted the dancers who appear to be moving around within the frame. As pointed out earlier, the artwork has confused other artists and audience in the past in regards to the diverse versions of the artwork that exists. However, based on my visual judgment and a successful visit to the museum, I believe this is the best version of the art worth viewing and analyzing. Histrionically, the artwork depicts some ballet dancers preparing for a performance, and the artist carefully portrays the different expressions of each dancer on their faces. Evidently, the first row is empty; perhaps it is considered a trial stage where they rehearse before the main performance.

As an artist, Degas was interested in painting, sculpture, prints, and drawings. Significantly, he captured the theme of dance and performance in most of his compositions. Many of his artworks depict dancers. He is recognized as one of the founders of Impressionism movement of composition, even though he vehemently rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist. Design elements and principles allow Degas to succeed in the composition to depict objects making up a composition. Specifically, Degas uses straight lines to depict the stage and ballerinas. Use of different intensities of lines ensures that the stage gets darker further back. The audience is, therefore, able to concentrate on the foreground and other valuable objects in the composition. The artist also succeeds in incorporating movement as a design principle, especially on the dancers who are seen moving around the stage. Further, use of color is well manifested in the composition where the artist has used a mixture of yellow and black. However, the general mixture of color appears dull, maybe in line with the type of performance the dancers are involved in and the type of message they are trying to send to the audience.

Ballet painting was common during pre-modernization; however, different artists depicted scenes differently, the masterpiece by Degas appears to portray calm and quiet environment unlike others (Degas, 2012). Furthermore, in his artwork, Degas presents the dancers differently; they appear not to be entertaining an audience. The dance group members are dancing, stretching and gaping. The faces of the dancers are not uniform despite wearing similar dancing attires and costumes. Visibly, the facial expression of the main objects in the composition indicates that they are fatigued. Accordingly, the dancers do not show the beauty of the stage as portrayed by the artist. Traditionally, ballet dancing and performance was an interesting and exciting event that was an epitome of beauty.

Degas chooses to divert from the traditional belief to depict his own unique theme. However, he decides to depict similar aspects traditionally associated with ballet performance. According to visual analysts, The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage supports the use of repetition as a design principle considering how some scenes have been reworked (Degas, 2012).  An audience looking at the object may not fail to discover that the positioning of objects in the bottom right section of the frame and the first layer that signifies the intensity and rigorous nature of the rehearsal depicted in the composition. It is avowed that Degas was not fan of colors and so he engages the use of dull colors to reinforce the mood and tone of the composition (Degas, 2012).  However, he manages to drive his point that aligns with the assertion that ballet dancing was an event that was greatly valued by Parisians.

Degas delicately used space to depict distinct objects and focused on the stage bordered by the footlights. However, the lightness of the dancers performing their acts effectively contrasts with the relaxed gestures of individuals on the left, waiting to perform. The audience’s naked eye can see the artist reworking in the composition courtesy of the thin layer of paint to render the transparent nature of compositions at the time (Howard, 2011).Visually, the legs of the dancers have been retouched, and the audience can finally see a man and another figure collapse in a chair. It took a lot of work and experience to render the composition. A painter , Giuseppe De Nittis,  described the artwork as  “I remember a drawing that must have been of a dance rehearsal  and I can tell you it was extremely beautiful, the muslin costumes were so diaphanous, and the movements so true to life that it has to be seen to be believed; it is just impossible to describe” (Degas, 2012). The confusion created by the artwork has made critics describe the art as a work of drawing rather than a painting. It is a fact that Degas managed to render the composition delicately with shades of tone (Souren, 2011).Through this masterpiece, it is believed that Degas invented a technique of using a neutral, milky tone in conjunction with stage lighting to give artworks the rhythms that they deserved (Souren, 2011).




Degas appears in the art history books as one of the artists who perfected the Impressionism technique of artistic composition. Even though he consistently denied the term and preferred being called a realist, The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage was different from others. His career was not promising when he started, considering that his initial stints were based on old-fashioned ways that deliberately copied a lot from old masters. He managed to perfect his composition to align with Parisian cultures. In my view, Degas through his artwork completely changed the Impressionism field, and many artists have a lot to learn from this genius.



Degas Edgar. (2010). Ballet rehearsal on stage, 1874 by Edgar Degas. Edgar Degas. Available

at: Retrieved April 18, 2018.

Degas, E. (2012). Degas Drawings of Dancers. Dover Publications.

Howard Michael. (2011). Degas and the ballet: Picturing Movement. Times Higher Education.

Available at: . Retrieved April 18, 2018.

Souren Melikian. (2011). Degas: More than just a Balletmaster. The New York Times.

Available at: Retrieved April 18, 2018.



The Rehearsal of the Balle