The Dance Class

Edgar Degas (French, Paris 1834–1917 Paris)

Oil on canvas
32 7/8 x 30 3/8 in. (83.5 x 77.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1986
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    This work and its variant in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, represent the most ambitious paintings Degas devoted to the theme of the dance. Some twenty-four women, ballerinas and their mothers, wait while a dancer executes an "attitude" for her examination. Jules Perrot, a famous ballet master, conducts the class. The imaginary scene is set in a rehearsal room in the old Paris Opéra, which had recently burned to the ground. On the wall beside the mirror, a poster for Rossini’s Guillaume Tell pays tribute to the singer Jean-Baptiste Faure, who commissioned the picture and lent it to the 1876 Impressionist exhibition.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed (lower left): Degas

  • Provenance

    Jean-Baptiste Faure, Paris (1874–98; received from the artist in November 1874, for Fr 5,000; sold on February 19, 1898 for Fr 10,000 to Durand-Ruel); [Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1898; stock no. 4562, as "Le foyer de la danse"; transferred to Durand-Ruel, New York, March 16, 1898; stock no. 1977; sold April 4, 1898 for $25,000 to Payne]; Colonel Oliver H. Payne, New York (1898–d. 1917); his nephew, Harry Payne Bingham, New York (1917–d. 1955); his widow, Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, New York (1955–d. 1986)

  • Exhibition History

    Paris. 11, rue Le Peletier. "2e exposition de peinture [2nd Impressionist exhibition]," April 1876, no. 37 (as "Examen de danse," lent by M. F...).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Loan Exhibition of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings," May 3–September 15, 1921, no. 27 (as "Le Foyer de la dance [sic]," lent by Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "New York Collects," July 3–September 2, 1968, no. 50 (as "Le Foyer de la danse," lent by Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Impressionism: A Centenary Exhibition," December 12, 1974–February 10, 1975, no. 17 (as "The Dance Class," lent anonymously).

    Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Degas," February 9–May 16, 1988, no. 130.

    Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "Degas," June 16–August 28, 1988, no. 130.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Degas," September 27, 1988–January 8, 1989, no. 130.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection," March 27–June 20, 1993, no cat. number (fig. 59).

    Detroit Institute of Arts. "Degas and the Dance," October 20, 2002–January 12, 2003, unnumbered cat. (pl. 127).

    Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Degas and the Dance," February 12–May 11, 2003, unnumbered cat. (pl. 127).

  • References

    Ph[ilippe]. Burty. "Fine Art: The Exhibition of the 'Intransigeants'." Academy (April 15, 1876), pp. 363–64 [reprinted in Ref. Berson 1996, vol. 1, p. 65], mentions "the green-room of the Opera" among pictures by Degas.

    Pierre Dax. "Chronique." L'Artiste (May 1, 1876), pp. 347–49 [reprinted in Ref. Berson 1996, vol. 1, p. 70].

    Georges Grappe. Edgar Degas. Berlin, [1908], ill. p. 21, as "Le Foyer de la danse; Das Foyer der Tanzschule; The Dancer's Foyer".

    P.-A Lemoisne. Degas. Paris, 1912, p. 60, dates it 1875 based on a drawing of the ballet master, whom he identifies as Plucque, dated the same year.

    Julius Meier-Graefe. Degas. Munich, 1920, p. 41, pl. 16 [English ed., 1923, p. 56, pl. XVI], as "La Classe de danse"; dates it 1872–73 and calls it a variation of the picture in the Musée d'Orsay (L341), claiming that both pictures support "the mischievous idea that Degas wanted to be a kind of Meissonier"; identifies the ballet master as Moraine.

    Royal Cortissoz. "Modern Unrest in French Art: Some Leading Types Shown At the Metropolitan." New York Tribune (May 8, 1921), p. 7, ill.

    Paul Jamot. Degas. Paris, 1924, p. 144, pl. 40, dates it about 1875 and calls it a replica with variations of the Orsay picture.

    Ambroise Vollard. Degas (1834–1917). Paris, 1924, ill. opp. p. 96, as "La répétition au foyer de la danse".

    J. B. Manson. The Life and Work of Edgar Degas. London, 1927, p. 21, calls it "possibly a better" version of the Orsay picture.

    Lettres de Degas. Paris, 1931, p. 16 n. 1 [English ed., New York, (1948), p. 261], states that in 1872 Faure commissioned this work from Degas, who delivered it in 1874 and received in payment Fr 5,000.

    Marguerite Rebatet. Degas. Paris, 1944, pl. 77, dates it about 1874–76 and erroneously locates it at the MMA.

    P[aul]. A[ndré]. Lemoisne. Degas et son œuvre. [reprint 1984]. Paris, [1946–49], vol. 1, pp. 92, 99, 102; vol. 2, pp. 180, 194, 214–15, no. 397, ill., calls it "Examen de danse (Classe de danse)" and dates it about 1876; identifies the setting as possibly the Salle Ventadour; notes that Faure paid Fr 5,000 for this picture in 1874; calls it a replica of the Orsay picture (L341); mentions the two studies for the ballet master in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (L364) and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

    John Rewald. "The Realism of Degas." Magazine of Art 39 (January 1946), p. 13, ill., dates it about 1872.

    Lillian Browse. Degas Dancers. New York, [1949], pp. 53–54, 341, 343, pl. 23, calls it "La Classe de danse de M. Perrot" and dates it about 1874–76; remarks that the figure of a seated dancer also appears in a drawing, though with the arms and head placed differently (about 1873; MMA 29.100.942); doubts that this picture was the "Examen de danse" lent by Faure to the 2nd Impressionist exhibition, arguing that Degas knew the examinations took place on the stage of the Opera, and would not have taken liberties at this early date.

    Pierre Cabanne. Edgar Degas. Paris, [1957], pp. 98, 108–9, under no. 36 [English ed., 1958], dates it about 1876 on p. 108 and 1876 on p. 109.

    Jakob Rosenberg. Great Draughtsmen from Pisanello to Picasso. Cambridge, Mass., 1959, p. 113, dates it 1876.

    Louisine W. Havemeyer. Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector. New York, 1961, pp. 33, 263–64, 289, describes how Mr. Havemeyer encouraged Colonel Payne to buy this picture rather than purchase it for himself, and later remarked to her "If ever you have a chance, get that picture back. The Colonel does not care for it and would rather buy one of the English school".

    Ronald Pickvance. "Degas's Dancers: 1872–6." Burlington Magazine 105 (June 1963), p. 259 nn. 35, 38, p. 264, calls it "L'Examen de danse," dates it 1873–74, and calls it a compositional variant of the Orsay picture.

    Lillian Browse. "Degas's Grand Passion." Apollo 85 (February 1967), p. 109, fig. 5, calls it "La Classe de danse de M. Perrot" and dates it about 1874–76.

    Fiorella Minervino in L'opera completa di Degas. Milan, 1970, p. 109, no. 488, ill., dates it about 1876.

    Anthea Callen. "Jean-Baptiste Faure, 1830–1914: A Study of a Patron and Collector of the Impressionists and their Contemporaries." Master's thesis, University of Leicester, 1971, p. 161, no. 194, fig. 1, erroneously identifies it as no. 54 in the 1st Impressionist exhibition.

    Charles S. Moffett in Impressionism: A Centenary Exhibition. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1974, pp. 104–7, no. 17, ill. (color) [French ed., "Centenaire de l'impressionnisme," Éditions des musées nationaux, Paris, 1974], calls it "The Dance Class" and dates it 1875–76; believes that the changes between this picture and the earlier Orsay version were made to add greater subtlety and finesse to the composition.

    Theodore Reff. The Notebooks of Edgar Degas: A Catalogue of the Thirty-Eight Notebooks in the Bibliothèque Nationale and Other Collections. Oxford, 1976, vol. 1, p. 125 (notebook 26, p. 74), records a list of pictures made in preparation for the 2nd Impressionist exhibition that includes the notation "Danseuses Faure," a reference to this painting.

    Roy McMullen. Degas: His Life, Times, and Work. Boston, 1984, p. 249, notes that Faure bought it for Fr 5,000 in 1874.

    George T. M. Shackelford. Degas: The Dancers. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1984, pp. 52–53, 63 n. 19, fig. 2.8, calls it a reprise of the Orsay picture, in which Degas may have wished to "reassert the importance of a forward-facing dancer" who had been painted over in the earlier composition; remarks that ours is "almost certainly a later variant of the Paris version of the painting because it exhibits almost no pentimenti, whereas in the Paris version many of the figures have been moved or overpainted"; describes the final effect of our picture as "disturbingly unbalanced".

    Hollis Clayson in The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington. San Francisco, 1986, p. 161, identifies it as no. 37 in the 2nd Impressionist exhibition.

    Frances Weitzenhoffer. The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America. New York, 1986, pp. 126–27, 130–31, 219, 222, colorpl. 79, calls it "The Dance Lesson" and dates it about 1874; quotes Mary Cassatt's opinion that this picture "is more beautiful than any Ver Meer I ever saw"; relates that Colonel Payne refused to lend this picture to Mrs. Havemeyer's April 1915 exhibition benefitting women's suffrage held at Knoedler.

    John Russell. "Turkish and Other Delights." New York Times Magazine (August 30, 1987), pp. 71, 110, ill. (color).

    Gary Tinterow in Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1986–1987. New York, 1987, pp. 39–40, ill. (overall and color detail) and on cover (color), calls it "The Dance Class" and dates it 1873–74; states that Faure commissioned it in 1872 and that it was delivered to him in November 1874; asserts that although the "rushing perspective, nearly square format, and crowded composition" derive from "Portraits in an Office (New Orleans)" (Musée Municipal de Pau, France), Degas never surpassed this picture's complexity of figural arrangements and variety of poses; notes that radiographs reveal several revisions and that the drawings for this and the Orsay version provided a repertory of poses for his ballet pictures over the next decade.

    Jean Sutherland Boggs in Degas. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. New York, 1988, pp. 26, 32 n. 30, fig. 4 (color detail).

    Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge. Degas. New York, 1988, p. 273, ill. p. 62 (color).

    Robert L. Herbert. Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society. New Haven, 1988, pp. 124, 127, colorpl. 129, dates it about 1876; calls both this and the Orsay version "pure inventions, not scenes that the artist somehow copied".

    Michael Kimmelman. "New Metropolitan Galleries Open with Degas." New York Times (September 26, 1988), p. C19.

    Michael Pantazzi in Degas. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. New York, 1988, pp. 221–23 n. 12, pp. 234, 236–37, 240, 242–44, 274, 325, no. 130, ill. (color), provides details of Faure's transactions with Degas, stating that he commissioned a picture of an examination or dance class in 1873; notes that Degas began the Orsay version in late 1873, intending it for Faure, but after many revisions temporarily abandoned it and painted our picture in 1874, delivering it to Faure by November of that year; considers the essence drawing of Perrot (Philadelphia Museum of Art) to be a study for the revised Orsay picture, which was finally completed in 1875–76; mentions the charcoal drawing of Perrot (Fitzwilliam Museum) and two drawings of dancers as studies for our picture (3rd Degas sale, no. 166.1; 4th Degas sale, no. 138a, private collection, New York).

    Barbara Scott. "The Triumph of Degas." Apollo 127 (April 1988), p. 283, calls it fresher and more luminous than the Orsay version.

    Richard Thomson. "The Degas Exhibition in Ottawa and New York." Burlington Magazine 131 (April 1989), pp. 293–94.

    Gary Tinterow and Anne Norton. "Degas aux expositions impressionnistes." Degas inédit: Actes du Colloque Degas. Paris, 1989, p. 297, identify it as no. 37 in the 2nd Impressionist exhibition.

    Anne Distel. Impressionism: The First Collectors. New York, 1990, p. 89, colorpl. 72.

    Carol Armstrong. Odd Man Out: Readings of the Work and Reputation of Edgar Degas. Chicago, 1991, pp. 54, 131–32, fig. 23.

    Everett Fahy. "Selected Acquisitions of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987–1991." Burlington Magazine 133 (November 1991), pp. 801, 808, colorpl. XIII.

    Henri Loyrette. Degas. Paris, 1991, pp. 362, 742 n. 192.

    Linda Nochlin. "A House is not a Home: Degas and the Subversion of the Family." Dealing with Degas: Representations of Women and the Politics of Vision. London, 1992, p. 57, claims that the inclusion of stage mothers in the background of works like this one may imply procuration, not chaperonage.

    Louisine W. Havemeyer. Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector. 3rd ed. [1st ed. 1930, repr. 1961]. New York, 1993, pp. 33, 263–64, 289, 313 n. 68, p. 339 n. 395, p. 344 n. 456, states that Payne bought this picture for $25,000 from Durand-Ruel.

    Henri Loyrette. Degas: The Man and His Art. New York, 1993, pp. 81–83, 86, ill. (color).

    Rebecca A. Rabinow in Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, pp. 89, 91, states that Payne would not lend to Mrs. Havemeyer's 1915 exhibition because of his antisuffrage position.

    Susan Alyson Stein in Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 223, fig. 59, notes that Durand-Ruel first recommended this picture for purchase to the Havemeyers.

    Marilyn R. Brown. Degas and the Business of Art: A Cotton Office in New Orleans. University Park, Pa., 1994, pp. 105, 126.

    Richard Thomson. Edgar Degas: Waiting. Malibu, 1995, pp. 40, 94 n. 84, cites this painting as an early example of the appearance of older women waiting for their charges in the dancing classes depicted by Degas, arguing that their presence does not imply impropriety [see Ref. Nochlin 1992].

    "Documentation: Volume I, Reviews and Volume II, Exhibited Works." The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886. San Francisco, 1996, vol. 1, p. 70; vol. 2, p. 34, no. II-37, ill. p. 48, identifies it as no. 37 in the 2nd Impressionist exhibition.

    Lillian Schacherl. Edgar Degas: Dancers and Nudes. Munich, 1997, p. 18.

    Rebecca A. Rabinow. "Modern Art Comes to the Metropolitan: The 1921 Exhibition of 'Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings'." Apollo 152 (October 2000), pp. 6, 10, 12, fig. 10 (color).

    Jill DeVonyar and Richard Kendall. Degas and the Dance. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. New York, 2002, pp. 54, 79, 107, 119, 129, 141, 143, 202–3, 211, 289, colorpl. 127, tentatively identify the setting as one of the rooms in the dormer story, on the eastern side of the courtyard of the opera house.

    Jill DeVonyar and Richard Kendall in Master Drawings, 1700–1900. Exh. cat., W. M. Brady & Co., Inc. New York, 2002, unpaginated, under no. 32, fig. 10 (color detail), relate a sketch of dancer's feet (IV: 138a) to figures in this picture.

    John Richardson. "Degas and the Dancers." Vanity Fair (October 2002), pp. 334–35, ill. (color).

    Richard Shone. The Janice H. Levin Collection of French Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2002, p. 39.

    Stephen May. "Shadows Behind the Curtain." Art & Antiques 26 (June 2003), p. 74, ill.

    Maria Teresa Benedetti in Degas: Classico e moderno. Exh. cat., Complesso del Vittoriano, Rome. Milan, 2004, p. 264.

    Petra ten-Doesschate Chu. Nineteenth-Century European Art. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J., 2006, pp. 399–401, fig. 16-32 (color).

    Masterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 113, 242, no. 102, ill. (color and black and white) and frontispiece (color detail).

    Jane Kinsman. Degas: The Uncontested Master. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Australia. Canberra, 2008, p. 128 n. 2, p. 130.

    Alastair Macaulay. "Degas's Ballet Students Teach the Lessons of Their Art." New York Times (September 3, 2008), pp. E1, E5, ill. (color).

    Michael Pantazzi in Jane Kinsman. Degas: The Uncontested Master. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Australia. Canberra, 2008, p. 248.

    Colin B. Bailey in Masterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection. 4th rev. ed. [1st ed., 1989]. New York, 2009, pp. 28, 31 n. 4.

    Elizabeth Cowling in Elizabeth Cowling and Richard Kendall. Picasso Looks at Degas. Exh. cat., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Williamstown, Mass., 2010, p. 317 n. 98.

  • Notes

    In 1873, Degas began "The Dance Class" (L341; Musée d'Orsay, Paris) as a commission for Jean-Baptiste Faure. By autumn of 1874, he temporarily abandoned the Orsay picture and executed this version, which was delivered to Faure in November 1874 [see Ref. Pantazzi 1988].

    The ballet master depicted here is Jules Perrot (1810–1892), a celebrated dancer-choreographer who had worked in Paris and St. Petersburg and at the time gave occasional classes at the Opéra. There are two studies for the figure of Perrot: a sketch in oil on paper in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (L364) and a charcoal drawing in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (III:157.2).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History