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Edgar Degas : “The Dance Class” (c. 1873)

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Transfixed by a world of pink and white, Edgar Degas pulled strings with influential friends to gain backstage access to the Paris Opera, where he sketched the ballerinas in their private routines. “He comes in here in the morning,” noted a friend, “He watches all the exercises in which the movements are analyzed…nothing in the most complicated step escapes his gaze.”

Though their most graceful movements were on stage, it was their mundane hard work and preparation that most fascinated Degas; dancers rubbing sore muscles, fixing their hair, waiting to perform. In an 1889 sonnet, he empathized: “One knows that in your world / Queens are made of distance and greasepaint.”

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