Edgar Degas 1834-1917
Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas was born into a well-to-do banking family on July 19, 1834, in Paris.

Although primarily known for his ballet dancers done in pastel medium, Degas' work includes landscapes, cafe-concert and race horse scenes, nude women combing their hair, portraits--themes which he approached through drawing, oil painting and pastel media. He also rendered his themes through sculpture (e.g. dancers, horses) and through photography (landscapes, nudes, portraits) which he would then use as a basis for his paintings.Degas is usually classed with the Impressionists, and he exhibited with them in seven of the eight Impressionist exhibitions.

He studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts where he was influenced by the famous French classicist Ingres. At the Academy and later in Italy, Degas developed his great skill in drawing. After 1865, under the influence of the budding Impressionist movement, he gave up academic subjects to turn to contemporary themes. A cerebral artist and connoisseur of the French and Italian masters, he was able to bridge his more radical approach with tradition. Said Degas: "No art is less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and the study of the great Masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament I know nothing. I must redo the same subject ten times, twenty times... Nothing in art should seem like an accident, even movement". He evolved, throughout the years, from his more tightly controlled pictures (drawings, oil paintings) done in the 1870s to the freer, more explosive pastels of his later career. He had a keen sense of composition, working innovatively with perspective to give variety to his pictures. He was masterful in his use of color, a gift much admired by Bonnard.

His study of Japanese prints led him to experiment with unusual visual angles and asymmetrical compositions. He also experimented with photography.

In the 1880s, when his eyesight began to fail, Degas began increasingly to work in two media that did not require intense visual capacity: sculpture and pastel.

Although his witty ascerbic remarks could be rather punishing, he cultivated friendships with other artists, including Cassat, Manet, Pissarro.

Degas' entrepreneurial spirit is seen not only in his work, but also in his key role as organizer of the French Impressionist movement. He is said to have had a leading role in organizing the First Exhibition of the Impressionists which opened April 15, 1874. Degas' legacy thus extends beyond his artwork--by being instrumental in creating a movement, French Impressionism, which has had lasting repercussions into the 20th century.

He died in Paris on September 27, 1917.

Works by Edgar Degas featured on this website:

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