Impressionist artist Edgar Degas is best known for his depictions of ballet dancers. The artist was inspired by ballet rehearsals and fascinated by the movement of dancers. Though his knowledge of human anatomy informed his drawings and paintings, Degas was more interested in capturing the essence or impression of a ballerina’s movements rather than realistically documenting the motions. In Rehearsal Before the Ballet, Degas offers the viewer a backstage preview, with some dancers poised on one toe and others stretching as they prepare for the performance. The sparkling costumes and suggestions of an audience in the background add to the anticipation of the moment before the curtain rises.
Degas worked in a studio in the Montmartre district of Paris for many years. His academic training was influenced heavily by the inventive compositions of Japanese prints which became available in Europe following the opening of trade with Japan in 1854. The artist never reconciled himself to being referred to as an Impressionist painter, yet he was one of the group’s founders, an organizer of its exhibitions and one of its most important members.