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Title The Ballet Scene from Meyerbeer´s Opera Robert Le Diable
Collection Victoria and Albert Museum
Artist Degas, Edgar (French painter and sculptor, 1834-1917)
Date 1876
Signed yes

This painting is a fine example of Degas' opera scenes. It depicts the final act of the Romantic opera Robert le Diable, in which deceased nuns come back to life and execute a bacchanalian dance. The scene is depicted from behind the orchestra and the first rows of spectators, among who can be recognised some friends of the artist. This compositional idea is typical of Degas and recurrs in several of his stage representations. Although Degas was close to some Impressionists painters, he rather defined his work as realist.

Edgar Degas was born in Paris, where he entered the studio of Louis Lamothe (1822-1869), a former pupil of Ingres, in 1854, before attending the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He completed his artistic training with a three-year journey in Italy and specialised in contemporary subjects upon his return to France. His work is characterised by a wide range of media (drawings, prints, pastels, paintings and sculptures) and shares many components with the Realist and Impressionist movement even though he remained quite independent.

Museum Number CAI.19
Inscription front ll 'Degas'
Subject figure; everyday life; interior
Measurements 76.6 × 81.3 cm
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides 1900.
Provenance Purchased by Constantine Alexander Ionides (possibly advised by Legros), 7 June 1881, for £400, from Durand-Ruel, 95, New Bond Street, London.

Among these figures, one can recognises the collector Albert Hecht, on the far left holding his opera glasses, next to the bassoonist Désiré Dihau, who appears in the exact same position in another painting (California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 1952.69). The bearded figure seen from behind towards the right is the amateur painter Vicomte Lepic. This painting was long planned by Degas who executed several preparatory drawings, some of which are also in the Museum's collections (see E.3685-1919, E.3686-1919, E.3687-1919, E.3687-1919, E.3688-1919) while a earlier version dated 1871 is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (29.100.552). It illustrates a characteristic of Degas' artistic practice, who declared: 'My art has nothing spontaneous about it, it is all reflection'. A preference for urban subjects, artificial light and preparatory drawings contribute to the distinction between Degas and the other Impressionist painters.

According to A. Gruetzner Robins and R. Thomson (Tate, 2005), it is possible that Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), who specialised in depicting the interiors of London music-halls, saw the painting. It was the first Degas to enter a public collection in Britain.

Rights Owner © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Author Ana Debenedetti



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