The Mante Family, 1889 by Edgar Degas

IN THIS DELIGHTFUL PICTUBE of a family group in the ballet Degas has combined elements of portraiture with types drawn from his backstage experience. How often he must have seen the mothers of the little ballerinas fastening ribbons in their hair or tying bows on their shoulders! Here he has contrasted the child in her dancing costume with the slightly older sister in street clothes, a contrast which is subtly felt in the poses of the two girls, the one on the left stolid and waiting, the danseuse already stretching her toe and more fluid and graceful in the whole line of her figure.

This pastel is unusually sober in color for Degas. Rather than his unusual mixture of bright and brilliant hues, this is a harmony of blacks and browns and russets, against which the light tones of the ballet costume stand forth. As usual the drawing is vivid and searching, the parallel strokes of pastel building the form and giving a unifying sense of texture to the whole picture. The Mantes were notably connected with the Opera in Paris; the father a bassoonist in the orchestra and the three daughters at one time or another dancers in the ballet. The one in the practice costume is Suzanne, then about seven years of age. Her sister, Blanche, is in street clothes and was eight or nine at the time.