Activities: Degas


Detail from Edgar Germain Hilaire Degas, 'Two Ballet Dancers in a Dressing Room' (c.1880)



Take a moment to look at the painting.

  • Is this a spontaneous ‘snapshot’ view or did Degas arrange the figures to seem casual? Use visual evidence from the work to support your answer.
  • Do the objects on the shelf and foreground form an important part of the picture? If they were removed, how would the composition and atmosphere be effected?



Degas completed Two Harlequins (NGI.2741) five years after Two Ballet Dancers. Compare the two works in terms of:

  • subject-matter
  • perspective 
  • treatment of the figure
  • light and shade



Recreate the effect... Perspective

Degas observes the dancers from above, as if standing on the shelf in the foreground. Experiment with different viewpoints whilst sketching figures. Try out some of the following scenarios:

  • Sit at the top of a staircase and draw someone at the bottom, then try it the opposite way around;
  • Draw someone lying down- foreshortening the figure can be tricky!
  • Sketch someone through an open window, including several cropped elements. Now try including part of the window frame and see how this effects the composition.

Create your own... Gestural Drawings!

Degas sometimes employed young dancers, known as ‘petit rats’, to study their movements and gestures. Map the movement of a figure walking or dancing across a room, using a prop like a chair. Keep the drawings on one page, using different coloured pencils for each pose.