During Degas's lifelong fascination with dance, a transformation took place in his late pastels. Particularly evident from his work in the late 1890s, is the artist's shift from realism to expressionism. In contrast to the earlier portrayals of dancers at practice, waiting to audition, or in a performance, in these late works Degas isolates a single movement of the dancer.
His response to the human body--central to his work ever since the beginning--has crossed its old boundaries. The dancers, no longer spread out at a distance, no longer observed in representative attitudes, have become the substance of the picture itself. Their movements are the movement of the picture. The draughtsman, the man who 'loved drawing very much,' had found immediate access to the music of a painting, a music that no longer needed a libretto in manners, in categories of dress or gestures, in witticisms of viewpoint, in order to be heard. Now the body is its own music, the picture its own body (R. Gordon and A. Forge, Degas, New York, 1988, p. 218).
The present composition is related to a group of similar pastels depicting the same two dancers at rest. Even when shown at rest, the positions of their bodies are dynamic. Degas gives each dancer ample space to move as shown by the figure at the right, who stretches her left leg out on the bench. The same figure reveals an area of 'pentimenti' above her. Stylistically, the large format of the compostion enables Degas to use a looser and freer hand, the soft airy hues of the pastel enclosed by the heavily accented lines.