This arabesque is a study for the figure in the background in Degas' oil of 1881 Classe de ballet (Salle de danse) (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, L 479), formerly in the collection of Mary Cassatt, the second of Degas' works to cross the Atlantic (the first was La lesson de dance, L 397).
Commissioned by Mary Cassatt's parents for their mansion in Philadelphia, Classe de ballet was the subject of intense labour for the painter, who prepared and reworked it extensively between late 1880 and September 1881, when the picture arrived safely in America. It was greatly liked by Mary Cassatt, who described it on 18 April 1920 to her friend Louisine Havemeyer as 'a girl reading seated on a bench, the same model as the one who posed for the statue and bust of her, a very fine classic group of dancers, one of Degas' best' (quoted by M. Pantazzi, exh. cat., Degas, loc. cit.). Indeed, the group of dancers in the upper left corner of the composition was the result of an elaborate reflection and deep study, of which the present work represents an important phase. As we can appreciate from the drawing, the dancer en pointe with the yellow ribbon was originally more turned to the right, with her right arm extended before her, caught in a more confident position. In the oil, the arabesque is somewhat still tentative, not in full flight: the dancer's head and arm are lowered, as she is settling into the balance of the final pose.
Whilst Lemoisne (op. cit.) dated the picture 1878, M. Pantazzi (ibid.) firmly dates it to spring 1881. Some of the studies for the dancers in the background with their arms raised en couronne were executed much earlier (circa 1872), but the present work seems to relate directly to the oil. Therefore a date of 1880-1881 is more likely.
In Danseuse vue de profil, the easy fluidity of the charcoal allows Degas a great delicacy in the composition. The lightness of the pose is rendered through the finest use of sfumato and the soft touches of pink pastel, adding plastic weight to the elegant study.