Edgar Degas: 1834-1917

Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas was born on July 19, 1834, to a wealthy banking family in Paris, France.  Educated in Latin, Greek, and ancient history at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, Degas initially intended to study law, briefly attending the Sorbonne’s Faculté de Droit in 1853.

In 1855 he studied painting the École des Beaux-Arts with Louis Lamothe, learning the traditional Academic style with its emphasis on line and the importance of draftsmanship. Degas was also influenced by the paintings and frescoes he saw during several trips to Italy in the late 1850s.

Degas exhibited his history painting “The Misfortunes of the City of Orléans “ at the Salon in 1865 but following that, he began focusing on painting scenes of modern life.  He favoured themes of ballet dancers, laundresses, milliners, horse racing and other every day scenes. His interest in ballet dancers increased in the 1870’s and he produced over 600 works on the subject. In his later years, Degas created works of women bathing, entirely without self-consciousness and un-posed.

From the late 1860s onward, Degas also produced many small sculptures in wax. He concentrated on the subjects seen in his paintings – horses, dancers and women washing. His interest in this medium increased in the mid-1880s in-part as a result of his failing eyesight.

Before 1880, he generally used oils for his completed works, which were based on preliminary studies and sketches made in pencil or pastel. After 1875, he began using pastels more frequently, even in finished works, and by 1885, most of his more important works were done in pastel.  In the mid-1870s Degas returned to the medium of etching and began experimenting with printmaking media such as lithographs and monotypes.

Degas saw his work as “Realist” or “Independent” and did not like being labeled an “Impressionist” even though he was considered to be one of the group’s founders, an organizer of its exhibitions, and one of its core members. Like the Impressionists, his aim was to capture moments of modern life, yet he had little interest in painting plein air landscapes and his use of clear, hard outlines, set his works apart from the other Impressionists. An observer of everyday scenes, Degas captured in his works, natural positions and movement of the human body.

Degas continued working until about 1912, when he was forced to leave his long-time studio in Montmartre. He never married and any emotional relationships he may have had, remains uncertain. Edgar Degas died on September 27, 1917, at the age of eighty-three.

For a complete biography, visit the source links below.

Sources: MET Museum, MOMA, Wikipedia, Artchive (images)