Watercolour of a woman in a tutu

The subject wears a green, romantic-style tutu with fairy wings and carries flowers. The painting possibly depicts the conclusion of a ballet performance, as flowers are being thrown onto the stage. In the 1870s, ballet fell somewhat out of fashion. According to Julia Fiore, “some performances had been reduced to tawdry interludes in operas, the spectacle serving as an enticing respite for concertgoers, who could ogle the dancers’ uncovered legs.”

Many dancers were also overworked, underpaid and mistreated. A dancer self-identified as “a poor ballet girl” wrote anonymously to The Era newspaper in 1877 that dancers would practice for four to six weeks without pay, “from ten in the morning until five, then sometimes in the evening…If you are five minutes late in the morning, you are fined, and at the same time you are starving.”

Many girls spread illnesses to one another while boarding together. Gas illumination on stage also placed the dancers at risk of injury or death from fire. Finally, some dancers had older, wealthy male patrons that provided them with a lavish lifestyle, oftentimes in exchange for sexual favors. Fiore explains that dancers “were expected to submit to the affections of these subscribers… [and that] these relationships always involved an unbalanced power dynamic.”