Mallarmé's Influence on Degas's Æsthetic of Dance in his Late Period
Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) were acquaintances, perhaps friends who held one another in high regard. In 1888 Mallarmé asked Degas to create an illustration for the former's seminal essay "Ballet" that was to be published, along with his other essays on the subject of the theater, in La Tiroir du Lac. "Ballet" formed the basis of Mallarmé's symbolist aesthetic for the stage. Degas at first either did not understand or failed to appreciate Mallarmé's vague and esoteric language. But evidence, primarily from the changed aesthetic of his art in the 1890s, but also from his statements to colleagues, points to a gradual shift in Degas's thinking and a growing acceptance of Mallarmé's symbolist perspective. Specific features of Degas's later pastels (especially after 1895), notably the close placement of dancers to the picture plane, their vague anonymous features, and the absence of identifiable stage decor, exemplify Mallarmé's influence.