The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage, ca. 1874. Edgar Degas. Oil colors freely mixed with turpentine, with traces of watercolor and pastel over pen-and-ink drawing on cream-colored wove paper, laid down on bristol board and mounted on canvas. H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Gift of Horace Havemeyer, 1929.
There are three similar versions of this scene, and their precise relationship has bedeviled scholars for decades. The largest, painted in grisaille (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), appeared in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. The two others, tentatively dated the same year, are in the Metropolitan’s collection. This painting probably preceded the version in pastel (29.100.39), which is more freely handled. The importance that Degas attached to the composition is evident in the preparatory drawings that he made for almost every figure, from the dancer scratching her back in the foreground to the woman yawning next to the stage flat.