Like Hiroshige’s Station of Otsu, Degas has arranged his composition in a diagonal band running from the bottom left-hand corner to the top right.
He has also chosen a raised viewpoint, an asymmetrical design, exaggerated foreshortening and severe cropping at the outer edges of the picture.
For instance, the ballerina placed halfway up the picture to the extreme right has been cut in half.
It is a visual trick, of course, but a very effective one.
It animates what would otherwise appear to be a static scene.
Degas’s intention was to communicate to us that what we are seeing is a fleeting moment that he has frozen in time.
And yet, it was nothing of the sort. ‘No art was less spontaneous than mine,’ he once said.
In that respect Degas wasn’t really an Impressionist at all.
He couldn’t get as worked up as Monet and the others about the whole painting en plein air business, preferring to work in his studio from preparatory sketches.
He was meticulous in his research and preparations, making hundreds of drawings, and taking an almost scientific interest in human anatomy, reminiscent of the investigations Leonardo da Vinci had made into human physiology 400 years earlier.
As for the depiction of nature’s ever-changing light, well, that was not Degas’s principal concern; his focus lay more in an artist’s ability to give his or her subject the illusion of movement.
Much thanks to Will Gompertz’s book What Are You Looking At….some of the blog is directly taken from this fantastic book.