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Artists Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas

French Painter, Sculptor, and Printmaker

Edgar Degas Photo
Movements and Styles: Realism, Impressionism, Japonism

Born: July 19, 1834 - Paris, France

Died: September 27, 1917 - Paris, France

"A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people."

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Summary

Always remembered as an Impressionist, Edgar Degas was a member of the seminal group of Paris artists who began to exhibit together in the 1870s. He shared many of their novel techniques, was intrigued by the challenge of capturing effects of light and attracted to scenes of urban leisure. But Degas's academic training, and his own personal predilection toward Realism, set him apart from his peers, and he rejected the label 'Impressionist' preferring to describe himself as an 'Independent.' His inherited wealth gave him the comfort to find his own way, and later it also enabled him to withdraw from the Paris art world and sell pictures at his discretion. He was intrigued by the human figure, and in his many images of women - dancers, singers, and laundresses - he strove to capture the body in unusual positions. While critics of the Impressionists focused their attacks on their formal innovations, it was Degas's lower-class subjects that brought him the most disapproval.

Key Ideas

Degas's enduring interest in the human figure was shaped by his academic training, but he approached it in innovative ways. He captured strange postures from unusual angles under artificial light. He rejected the academic ideal of the mythical or historical subject, and instead sought his figures in modern situations, such as at the ballet.
Degas's academic training encouraged a strong classical tendency in his art, which conflicted with the approach of the Impressionists. While he valued line as a means to describe contours and to lend solid compositional structure to a picture, they favored color, and more concentration on surface texture. As well, he preferred to work from sketches and memory in the traditional academic manner, while they were more interested in painting outdoors (en plein air).
Like many of the Impressionists, Degas was significantly influenced by Ukiyo-e Japanese prints, which suggested novel approaches to composition. The prints had bold linear designs and a sense of flatness that was very different from the traditional Western picture with its perspective view of the world.
There is a very interesting and puzzling dichotomy in the way Degas approached his female subjects. There is much evidence that he was a misogynist, and also, much to prove that he was enamored with the female form that he attempted to represent it in its most absolute state through hundreds of painstaking studies. Whatever the reality may be, his studies and output furthered the exploration of the figure and the portrait in all of the visual arts.
Edgar Degas Photo

Edgar Degas was the eldest of five children of Célestine Musson de Gas, an American by birth, and Auguste de Gas, a banker. Edgar later changed his surname to the less aristocratic sounding 'Degas' in 1870. Born into a wealthy Franco-Italian family, he was encouraged from an early age to pursue the arts, though not as a long-term career. Following his graduation in 1853 with a baccalaureate in literature, the eighteen-year-old Degas registered at the Louvre as a copyist, which he claimed later in life is the foundation for any true artist.

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