Object type



The Red Ballet Skirts


Edgar Hilaire Germain Degas



Place Associated

Paris, France (place made)


circa 1900


pastel on tracing paper (?)


overall: 955 mm x 768 mm x 58 mm;framed: 950 mm x 765 mm x 50 mm;unframed: 812 mm x 622 mm


In this late pastel, three dancers are seen waiting in the wings during a performance. Members of the corps de ballet, they are no longer the elegant sylph-like figures performing graceful movements under bright lights but heavy, awkward, tired dancers. Against a backdrop of a stage flat, we see them resting and stretching, adjusting their slippers or arching their weary backs.

Throughout his career Degas seems to have preferred showing ballet dancers off stage. Why? While allowing him to depict the dancers in their vibrant stage costumes, it meant he could explore the expressive poses and gestures of their spontaneous, natural movements, rather than the repeated and learned, rehearsed movements of the ballet.

One of Degas’s models, Pauline, recorded how Degas worked on these late pastels. She describes the artist painting the same subject over and over again, but each time using different tones until one of the pastels pleased him enough for him to consider it finished. The other works, like The Red Ballet Skirts, would be left more or less unfinished.

The dancers in the Burrell pastel wear glowing orange-red dresses against a green background. In a similar work, today in a private collection, he reverses this colour balance. In another work, now in Cincinnati, the dancers wear lemon tutus against a deep Prussian blue ground. Of the group of pastels relating to The Red Ballet Skirts, only one work was signed and sold during Degas’s lifetime. Does this mean that Degas considered the others, including The Red Ballet Skirts, to be failures?

Credit Line/Donor

Gifted by Sir William and Lady Burrell to the City of Glasgow, 1944


Burrell Collection: Pictures [Oils, Pastels and Watercolours]

ID Number



Burrell Collection

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