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Edgar Degas Biography

    Birth Year : 1834
    Death Year : 1917
    Country : France

Edgar Degas was an Impressionist more interested in movement than color. He was born in Paris, France, the son of a banker who hoped for him to go into business. Degas did not begin to study art until he was 21. He studied the work of Clouet and Nicolas Poussin at the Louvre, and after a year, Degas went to Italy and studied the art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Degas' greatest early admiration was Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and until he met Edouard Manet and the Impressionists, Degas painted classical historical works. Once Degas joined the Impressionists, he changed his subject matter, painting racetrack scenes sketched from life. In his studio, he finished ballet, theatrical scenes, and many pictures of women. He worked in many different mediums and concentrated on the portrayal of movement that hints to the action immediately preceding and immediately following that of the moment captured by his rapid pencil or brush.

Degas' skill as a draughtsman was extraordinary, and Degas' paintings have the feeling of immediacy that is more commonly associated with the camera.

Degas discarded classical rules of composition and often used an oblique angle with light coming from below to create a new type of theatrically focused space. In his oil paintings, Degas applied his color in translucent cross-hatching. For his pastels, he used a technique where color was applied in many successive layers to give a powdery, soft effect that was particularly effective in his ballet scenes. Stories of Degas' sharp tongue and crustiness abound, but his personality is of little importance in comparison to his art. Degas' hundreds of dancers - in oils, pastels, gouache, tempera, charcoal, pencil, and bronze - are revelations of human movement; his horses seem alive; and his studies of women at bathing, work, or in cafes, have a sense of reality that is both emotional and intellectual.

Degas the Early Years

Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas was born to a well to do family in Paris, France on January 19, 1834. The oldest of five children, he had two brothers, and two sisters. His father, Augustin de Gas, was a Neopolitan banker born in Naples Italy to a family of wealthy bankers, and his Creole mother, Celestine Musson, was an American from New Orleans.

Degas received a classical education at the elite school, Lycee Louis-le-Grand, where he studied French literature, as well as Latin and Greek. He then went on to law school for a short two years before dropping out at the age of twenty to more seriously pursue his love of art. Degas began his study of art under the tutelage of Louis Lamothe, a former student of Ingres. Lamothe was a strong influence on Degas’ artistic style and placed an emphasis on drawing.

Following his time with Lamothe Degas went on to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under French Classic artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. Ingres helped Degas to develop his awesome drawing ability that is so characteristic of his work. The following year he toured Italy, and ended up staying for three years. Originally visiting family in Naples and Capodimonte, then in 1857 continuing his tour of Italy with a visit to Rome where he met Gustave Moreau. The two became close friends and in 1858 visited Florence together. During his time in Italy he studied the great Renaissance Masters with special interest given to Mantegna and Uccello.

Upon his return to Paris from Italy in 1859, he focused on developing his styles and techniques. He set up a studio in the rue Laval and painted several historical canvases as well as portraits of family and friends. He became skilled at drawing portraits, most well known The Belleli Family in 1959. He diligently studied and made copies of the paintings at the Louvre and eventually worked his way into becoming a regular participant in the Salon exhibitions which he exhibited in from 1865-1870.

Degas became friends with Berthe Morisot and Edouard Manet. In the summer of 1869 Degas joined Manet in Boulogne and Saint Valery en Caux where he painted landscapes. Both artists influenced the others art. Manet is the one who influenced Degas on the budding Impressionist movement.

In 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War broke out Degas and his friend Manet joined the National Guard along with many other artists. Degas served in the artillery and had to stop painting for a time. Degas’ health was badly effected by the severe cold during the siege of Paris so he rested in the Orne with the Valpincon family. In 1872, he exhibited work in the Society of French Artists exhibition in London. Following the exhibition he set out for the United States to stay with his brother in New Orleans for five months.

Degas the Middle Years

Upon his return to France in 1873, Degas discovered his country had changed. The conservative bourgeoisie was now under the control of the government and artistic institutions. Degas’ work had developed beyond the taste of the conventional Salon. Claude Monet suggested an exhibition of independent artists that would be different than the government controlled Salon. Degas and many of his artist friends joined in, with the exception of Manet, Tissot, and Legros. The first Impressionist Exhibition was held on April 19th, 1874 at Nadar’s photographic studio on the Rue de l’Opera. The next two exhibitions were organized by Durand-Ruel in his gallery on the Rue le Peletier.

Though Degas never fully fit the criteria of Impressionist, showing a strong focus on draftsmanship, portraiture, and composition, his paintings did begin to contain brighter colors and bolder strokes following his association with Impressionist artists.

In the 1870s Degas gained his reputation as the painter of dancers. Just as the Impressionists were interested in the effects of natural light, Degas was interested on the effects of artificial light as seen within the interior of the opera house. Following the theme of dance came the theme of the racecourse. Other themes that followed included the café society, women bathing, and milliners.

In February of 1874 Degas’ father died leaving the family banking business with much financial hardship. Degas ended up selling much of his collection in order to pay family debts following his father’s death.

Degas the Late Years

In the mid-1870s Degas experimented with pastels. They offered him several advantages including the ability to work more quickly on his experimental pieces. He used sharper colors and gave greater attention to surface patterns. Degas also experimented with different techniques in his lithographs and etchings. By the end of the

1870s he began to work with Camille Pissaro and Mary Cassatt in the area of graphic design.

The 1890s saw more of Degas’ work focused on dancers, bathers, and jockeys and once again his attention turned to the countryside and landscapes. He also began to turn more towards sculpture. His style did not see any dramatic changes though the dimension to his work did change a bit. He used to paint entire troupes of dancers but now he just focused on a few dancers at a time. This might have been due to the fact that his eye sight was failing him.

The first signs of eye trouble began during the war and Degas believed that since that time he was slowly going blind. Degas continued to work and fight through the troubling eyesight until about 1912. At that time, his friend Suzanne Valadon suggested that Degas move from his apartment to one that was better suited for his condition. Degas died in Paris, on September 27, 1917 and was buried in the cemetery of Montmartre.