Young ballet dancers came from impoverished backgrounds and faced a system of predatory behavior and abuse. Credit: Edgar Degas
The fundamentals of ballet haven’t changed all that much since its invention in 15th-century Italy. Yet the popular image of this deeply traditional medium has been largely defined by the talents of one thoroughly modern artist: Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas.
The coteries of young women in flowering tutus who populate the approximately 1,500 paintings, monotypes and drawings Degas dedicated to the ballet are among the French artist’s most universally beloved artworks. At first glance, Degas has rendered the sort of pretty, innocent world one might associate with a six-year-old’s first recital. These works actually speak to an insidious culture that would be shocking to contemporary audiences.