Paul Fischer was the leading Danish painter of the Belle Époque. His paintings of the elegant street and cultural life of Copenhagen combine the influence of French artists such as Jean Béraud, and of leading Impressionist painters such as Gustave Caillebotte and Edgar Degas. Obviously similar in subject to the latter's depictions of the Paris ballet school (fig. 1), this painting also shares a technique that is characterized by close cropping and the placement of figures far forward in the picture plane. However, Fischer's approach is more sympathetic and less detached than that of the French artist, stressing the pleasures and relaxed atmosphere of a grown up dance company, rather than the rigours placed upon the anonymous child dancers depicted in Degas' canvases. Indeed, many of the figures in the present work are identifiable; they include the violinist Busch, the ballerina Charlotte Weihe (standing centre foreground) and the ballet master Emil Hansen, seated on the right.
Fischer has imbued his painting with a gentle visual rhythm, with the drapery along the upper wall subtly echoing the billowing tutus of the dancers in the centre of the composition, a device which provides a gentle counterweight to the carefully crafted, but apparently haphazard, placement of the everyday foreground motifs.
One of the oldest companies in Europe, the Copenhagen ballet had grown to international fame under the artistic leadership of August Bournonville, who led the company from 1828 to 1879, and whose legacy continued well beyond his death with the establishment of a Royal Theatre dance school that carried his name.