As a scene or portrait, this enigmatic painting by Desvallières caused a stir at the 1903 Salon of the National Fine Art Society. This was a pivotal year for this artist, who had returned from England and played an active part in establishing the Autumn Salon at which Parisians were soon to discover the Fauvist and Cubists.
In the portraits which punctuated his work until 1914, Desvallières set his models in context against an appropriate backdrop. In this way he was able to go beyond the personality and conjure up a milieu and an atmosphere. These portraits are generally of close family or friends such as the wife of his fellow member of the Julian Academy, Pascal Blanchard.
The Petit Palais version was preceded by several studies. Painted in oil on paper, this seems to be the most complete version, although it has retained all the liveliness of a watercolour sketch. The composition focuses tightly on Madame Blanchard, a beautiful Russian-born brunette whose blue eyes punctuate her long profile, described by André Chaumeix as “morbidly graceful and highly-strung”.
A fin de siècle ambiance, “full of perfume and stifled passions” (Gabriel Mourey), emanates from this ball where a pair of dancers embrace ardently, whilst Madame Blanchard is incorporated into the reflections and transparencies of an ivory, pink and gold decor. The influence of Gustave Moreau, with whom the young Devallières completed his training, can be discerned in this elegant and strange work with its background cluttered with objects and precious furniture.