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Female Dancers in Violet Skirts, drawing by Degas, c.1895-8

Degas worked in a wide range of media throughout his career, but is especially noted for his extraordinarily inventive use of pastel. He began to use the medium in the 1850s, but evolved his complex and highly personal technique only later in his career, in the 1880s and 1890s. This pastel is one of a series of at least nine large-scale compositions showing dancers in similar poses. In each of the variants, Degas re-worked – and sometimes reversed – the poses of the two central figures, subtly modifying the background, angle of vision and position of the limbs, and in some cases added a third dancer.