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Waiting, c. 1879-1882

Edgar Degas

French, 1834-1917
Pastel on beige laid paper
19 x 24 in. (48.2 x 61 cm)
Jointly owned by the Norton Simon Art Foundation, Pasadena and The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
M.1983.1.P
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

With its raking composition and abrupt contrast of black and white, this picture grants us a glimpse backstage at the Paris Opéra without revealing any clear, coherent narrative. The two figures, each apparently absorbed in her own thoughts, may represent a young dancer and her chaperone or, indeed, one dancer dressed for rehearsal and another in street clothes. Only their shared sense of exhaustion and anxiety is clear—suggesting, perhaps, the anticipation or aftermath of an examination. Degas, as no artist before or since, took a keen interest in the physical routine of ballet dancers’ lives, the labor behind their art. At the Opéra, examinations played an important role in this routine, determining dancers’ salaries and professional advancement.

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