DEGAS, Edgar
(b. 1834, Paris, d. 1917, Paris)

The Orchestra at the Opera

c. 1870
Oil on canvas, 57 x 46 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

After the sporting world of the turf as a source of inspiration, Degas turned toward the stage and the ballet. These seemingly different themes have one major element in common: movement. They both allowed Degas to explore that which interested him the most: a body in motion. He had a passion for the world of music and opera and his paintings of the stage broke new ground.

His first paintings from the theatre were portraits. In The Orchestra at the Opera, Degas portrayed a number of musicians seated in the orchestra pit, among them such friends as the composer Emmanuel Chabrier, the flautist Joseph-Henri Altès, the cellist Pillet, the first violinist Lancien, the violist Gouffé, and the bassoonist Désiré Dihau. There are other versions and many preparatory studies for this picture, which is an excellent example of the goal he had set himself of portraying people in a public setting.