Even in the 1870s, Degas had been interested in the professional world of the dancer at the periphery of the stage, waiting for a performance or a rehearsal to begin. At its wittiest and bawdiest, it was seen through the eyes of Ludovic Halevy and his fictional characters, the Cardinals. In the eighties the theme continued, though very much subdued and without the wit of the previous decade. In one pastel, Dancers in the Studio dated 1884 by Lemoisne, Degas had used the horizontal fieze format to show a group of four dancers to the right of the composition, with the back of the reflected in a large wall mirror. Somewhat later, presumably in the early nineties rather than in 1884 as Lemoisne dates it, Degas made another, a squarer version, in oil, Four Dancers in the Studio. Not only had the dancers aged and lost their wistful charm, but Degas had inserted another , highly muscular figure in the foreground bending over to tie her shoe. It was even later in the nineties that he produced another version, Group of Dancers, now in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.
In the Edinburgh painting, the emphasis is placed on the two dancers found in each of the earlier versions naddrawings the one reflected in the mirror and the one with her back to us who raises her left arm. The dancer on the right has been enlarged and strengthened do that the bending dancer can be eliminated. The dancer on the left, though (like all the figures) more spectral than in the earlier version, turns more gracefully to her companions’ consequently; less is reflected in the mirror. The other dancers are reduced to smudges of paint.
Group of Dancers is freely painted and the contours applied with a daring. Its emerald greens, orange, and luminous whites, much more decorative than the acid yellows, oranges, and greens of the earlier Four Dancers in the Studio, are reminiscent of the Buhrle Foundation’s The Rehearsal Room, or the Four Dancers in Washington . There are obviously drawings in preparation for this painting, as there are for the earlier Dancers in the Studio and Four Dancers in the Studio. But like Washington’s Four Dancers, this strong painting could also have spawned dome drawings and one major pastel.