The Rehearsal
© The Frick Collection
oil painting of four ballet dancers in a studio with their arms outstretched and right legs lifted in the air, and a seated man wearing a black suit and playing the violin
English (US)
Of the many subjects treated by Edgar Degas, the dance is perhaps the most familiar. And this representation of a rehearsal at the old Paris Opera House is one of the most famous of the many works he made there. It's particularly effective for its almost mechanized rendition of the dancers, who look like puppets held up by strings. The old violinist is a real individual full of pathos, in contrast to the doll-like dancers moving to his music. Degas' up-tilted floor and unorthodox cropping, so often compared to photography, bring these young women close to us. A contemporary critic called attention to their "special beauty compounded of plebian coarseness and of grace." Mr. Frick was not particularly enthusiastic about Impressionist paintings, but this picture must have been very important to him--it hung in his private sitting room on the second floor. It was also one of the few paintings he ever loaned. He sent it to an exhibition to benefit the cause of women's suffrage at the request of his friend and fellow collector Louisine Havemeyer, herself an ardent suffragette.

The Rehearsal

Date: 1878–79
Medium: Oil on canvas
18 3/4 x 24 in. (47.6 x 61 cm)
Credit Line: Henry Clay Frick Bequest
Accession number:1914.1.34
Additional Information
This painting is probably the canvas entitled École de danse that Degas entered in the fourth exhibition of the Impressionists in 1879. It then belonged to the artist’s close friend Henri Rouart, and it was sold after Rouart’s death in 1912 along with a number of other important works by Degas. Mr. Frick was the next private individual to own it, acquiring the painting a year and a half later.

The Rehearsal is one of many compositions devoted to the dance that the artist produced in the 1870s, apparently fascinated with the mechanization of the human body that the rigorous discipline of the ballet imposed. In the same exhibition of 1879 Degas showed two other pictures of dancers practicing with a violinist. In all of them the unidentified musician appears divorced from the events surrounding him, his age and stolid form providing a touching contrast to the doll-like ballerinas.

Source: Art in The Frick Collection: Paintings, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996.
Henri Rouart. His sale, December 9–11, 1912, Galerie Manzi, Paris, Lot 176, as Répétition de danse, sold for 165,000 francs to Knoedler. Frick, 1914.

Source: Paintings in The Frick Collection: French, Italian and Spanish. Volume II. New York: The Frick Collection, 1968.