Theodore Reff has stated that, to his opinion, this work is by the hand of Edgar Degas.
No subject matter captured Degas’ interest as profoundly as the ballet. In the early 1900s, he frequently returned to previous themes, seeking to thoroughly explore motifs and poses until he felt he had exhausted all their artistic possibilities. As Richard Thomson has written: ‘Degas seems to have admired the dancers for their submission to the private, rigorous discipline that was the essential preparation for the seemingly effortless grace displayed to the public in the ballet. The dance rehearsal formed a sympathetic parallel to his own beliefs as an artist, founded on constant study of the paradigms and rudiments of his own art’ (R. Thompson, The Private Degas, London, pp. 47-48).
The National Gallery of Scotland’s Groupe de danseuses (Lemoisne 770) has been identified as a later exploration of pastels executed in the 1880s (Lemoisne 768). It depicts a group of dancers at rest and chatting, with two clearly drawn foreground figures retaining the poise of the dance lost in the indistinct figures behind them. Working in oil, Degas focuses here on the depiction of form, often blocking in patches of colour with his own fingers and leaving fingerprints in the surface of the painting. The composition is reworked to create a bold diagonal of figures balanced by the open space of the rehearsal stage awaiting their return.
The present pastel further explores this elegantly structured composition and bold handling of form, and is part of a series of drawings reworking this motif from the early 1900s (Lemoisne 1461, 1462). These drawings were related to one another in a letter dated 17 June 1986, by Prof. Theodore Reff, in agreement with Messrs. Brame and Lorenceau, in which the authenticity of this work, Cinq danseuses sur scène, was also confirmed.