edgar degas


  • [53] By 1880, sculpture had become one more strand to Degas’s continuing endeavor to explore different media, although the artist displayed only one sculpture publicly during
    his lifetime.

  • [76] Though his work crossed many stylistic boundaries, his involvement with the other major figures of Impressionism and their exhibitions, his dynamic paintings and sketches
    of everyday life and activities, and his bold color experiments, served to finally tie him to the Impressionist movement as one of its greatest artists.

  • He also drew and painted numerous copies of works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and other Renaissance artists, but—contrary to conventional practice—he usually selected
    from an altarpiece a detail that had caught his attention: a secondary figure, or a head which he treated as a portrait.

  • He exhibited at the Salon for the first time in 1865, when the jury accepted his painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages, which attracted little attention.

  • Although famous for horses and dancers, Degas began with conventional historical paintings such as The Daughter of Jephthah (c. 1859–61) and The Young Spartans (c. 1860–62),
    in which his gradual progress toward a less idealized treatment of the figure is already apparent.

  • [26] As the years passed, Degas became isolated, due in part to his belief that a painter could have no personal life.

  • [15] Artistic career Upon his return to France in 1859, Degas moved into a Paris studio large enough to permit him to begin painting The Bellelli Family—an imposing canvas
    he intended for exhibition in the Salon, although it remained unfinished until 1867.

  • Fiocre in the Ballet La Source, exhibited in the Salon of 1868, was his first major work to introduce a subject with which he would become especially identified, dancers.

  • Both regarded themselves as figure painters, and the art historian George Shackelford suggests they were influenced by the art critic Louis Edmond Duranty’s appeal in his
    pamphlet The New Painting for a revitalization in figure painting: “Let us take leave of the stylized human body, which is treated like a vase.

  • The fact is that with his first attempt Monsieur Degas has revolutionized the traditions of sculpture as he has long since shaken the conventions of painting.

  • [a][90][91] Cassatt later expressed satisfaction at the irony of Lousine Havermeyer’s 1915 joint exhibition of hers and Degas’ work being held in aid of women’s suffrage,
    equally capable of affectionately repeating Degas’ antifemale comments as being estranged by them (when viewing her Two Women Picking Fruit for the first time, he had commented “No woman has the right to draw like that”).

  • [35] Carlo Pellegrini, c. 1876; watercolor, oil and pastel on paper “He was often as anti-impressionist as the critics who reviewed the shows”, according to art historian
    Carol Armstrong; as Degas himself explained, “no art was ever less spontaneous than mine.

  • [39] In this painting, as in The Young Spartans and many later works, Degas was drawn to the tensions present between men and women.

  • Although they continued to visit each other until Degas’ death in 1917,[85] she never again worked with him as closely as she had over the prints journal.

  • [61] Sculpture Degas’s only showing of sculpture during his life took place in 1881 when he exhibited The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years.

  • During his early career, Degas also painted portraits of individuals and groups; an example of the latter is The Bellelli Family (c. 1858–67), an ambitious and psychologically
    poignant portrayal of his aunt, her husband, and their children.

  • [67] Although Degas painted a number of Jewish subjects from 1865 to 1870, his 1879 painting Portraits at the Stock Exchange may be a watershed in his political opinions.

  • [57][58] For all the stylistic evolution, certain features of Degas’s work remained the same throughout his life.

  • They had much in common: they shared similar tastes in art and literature, came from affluent backgrounds, had studied painting in Italy, and both were independent, never

  • “[60] Degas explained, “In art, nothing should look like chance, not even movement”.

  • The painting is a portrait of the Jewish banker Ernest May—who may have commissioned the work and was its first owner—and is widely regarded as anti-Semitic by modern experts.

  • In 1855, he met Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, whom he revered and whose advice he never forgot: “Draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from life and from memory,
    and you will become a good artist.

  • In his early thirties he changed course, and by bringing the traditional methods of a history painter to bear on contemporary subject matter, he became a classical painter
    of modern life.

  • [17] Although he exhibited annually in the Salon during the next five years, he submitted no more history paintings, and his Steeplechase—The Fallen Jockey (Salon of 1866)
    signaled his growing commitment to contemporary subject matter.

  • [40] In his early paintings, Degas already evidenced the mature style that he would later develop more fully by cropping subjects awkwardly and by choosing unusual viewpoints.

  • Degas is especially identified with the subject of dance; more than half of his works depict dancers.

  • [5] At the beginning of his career, Degas wanted to be a history painter, a calling for which he was well prepared by his rigorous academic training and close study of classical

  • [19] The artist provided another clue when he described his predilection “to begin a hundred things and not finish one of them”,[48] and was in any case notoriously reluctant
    to consider a painting complete.

  • [41] L’Absinthe, 1876, oil on canvas By the late 1860s, Degas had shifted from his initial forays into history painting to an original observation of contemporary life.

  • [55] La Toilette (Woman Combing Her Hair), c. 1884–1886, pastel on paper, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg These changes in media engendered the paintings that Degas would
    produce in later life.

  • Except for his characteristically brilliant draftsmanship and obsession with the figure, the pictures created in this late period of his life bear little superficial resemblance
    to his early paintings.

  • Degas took a leading role in organizing the exhibitions, and showed his work in all but one of them, despite his persistent conflicts with others in the group.

  • His scenes of Parisian life, his off-center compositions, his experiments with color and form, and his friendship with several key Impressionist artists—most notably Mary
    Cassatt and Manet—all relate him intimately to the Impressionist movement.

  • The facial features of the banker in profile have been directly compared to those in the anti-Semitic cartoons rampant in Paris at the time, while those of the background
    characters have drawn comparisons to Degas’ earlier work Criminal Physiognomies.

  • [3] Although Degas is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, he rejected the term, preferring to be called a realist,[4] and did not paint outdoors as many Impressionists

  • In point of fact, these paintings—created late in his life and after the heyday of the Impressionist movement—most vividly use the coloristic techniques of Impressionism.

  • The change in his art was influenced primarily by the example of Édouard Manet, whom Degas had met in 1864 (while both were copying the same Velázquez portrait in the Louvre,
    according to a story that may be apocryphal).

  • In 2004, a little-known group of 73 plaster casts, more or less closely resembling Degas’s original wax sculptures, was presented as having been discovered among the materials
    bought by the Airaindor Foundry (later known as Airaindor-Valsuani) from Hébrard’s descendants.

  • His paintings often hinted at narrative content in a way that was highly ambiguous; for example, Interior (which has also been called The Rape) has presented a conundrum to
    art historians in search of a literary source—Thérèse Raquin has been suggested[45]—but it may be a depiction of prostitution.

  • [86] Cassatt thought it represented her as “a repugnant person” and later sold it, writing to her dealer Paul Durand-Ruel in 1912 or 1913 that “I would not want it known that
    I posed for it.

  • Degas began to paint early in life.

  • He also began work on several history paintings: Alexander and Bucephalus and The Daughter of Jephthah in 1859–60; Sémiramis Building Babylon in 1860; and Young Spartans around

  • One of Degas’s New Orleans works, A Cotton Office in New Orleans, garnered favorable attention back in France, and was his only work purchased by a museum (the Pau) during
    his lifetime.

  • [65][66] Personality and politics Degas, who believed that “the artist must live alone, and his private life must remain unknown”,[67] lived an outwardly uneventful life.

  • Art historian Charles Stuckey has compared the viewpoint to that of a distracted spectator at a ballet, and says that “it is Degas’ fascination with the depiction of movement,
    including the movement of a spectator’s eyes as during a random glance, that is properly speaking ‘Impressionist’.

  • From 1870 Degas increasingly painted ballet subjects, partly because they sold well and provided him with needed income after his brother’s debts had left the family bankrupt.

  • Degas had attended their trial with sketchbook in hand, and his numerous drawings of the defendants reveal his interest in the atavistic features thought by some 19th-century
    scientists to be evidence of innate criminality.

  • He was the first person to purchase her art, and he taught her soft-ground etching.

  • [24] In the late 1880s, Degas also developed a passion for photography.

  • His La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, or Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, which he displayed at the sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881, was probably his most controversial
    piece; some critics decried what they thought its “appalling ugliness” while others saw in it a “blossoming”.

  • “[63] Degas created a substantial number of other sculptures during a span of four decades, but they remained unseen by the public until a posthumous exhibition in 1918.

  • [62] Degas scholars have agreed that the sculptures were not created as aids to painting, although the artist habitually explored ways of linking graphic art and oil painting,
    drawing and pastel, sculpture and photography.

  • As a promising artist in the conventional mode, Degas had a number of paintings accepted in the Salon between 1865 and 1870.

  • [23] As his financial situation improved through sales of his own work, he was able to indulge his passion for collecting works by artists he admired: old masters such as
    El Greco and such contemporaries as Manet, Cassatt, Pissarro, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Édouard Brandon.

  • He was a deliberative artist whose works, as Andrew Forge has written, “were prepared, calculated, practiced, developed in stages.

  • A nearly life-size wax figure with real hair and dressed in a cloth tutu, it provoked a strong reaction from critics, most of whom found its realism extraordinary but denounced
    the dancer as ugly.

  • For example, in an undated letter he said in response to one of her letters to him (translated from the French): Every year I see this handwriting, drawn like a saw, arriving,
    terrible Maria.

  • Paintings such as Place de la Concorde read as “snapshots,” freezing moments of time to portray them accurately, imparting a sense of movement.

  • [49] His interest in portraiture led Degas to study carefully the ways in which a person’s social stature or form of employment may be revealed by their physiognomy, posture,
    dress, and other attributes.

  • [37] Degas’s style reflects his deep respect for the old masters (he was an enthusiastic copyist well into middle age)[38] and his great admiration for Ingres and Delacroix.

  • [37] Place de la Concorde, 1875, oil on canvas, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg Blurring the distinction between portraiture and genre pieces, he painted his bassoonist friend,
    Désiré Dihau, in The Orchestra of the Opera (1868–69) as one of fourteen musicians in an orchestra pit, viewed as though by a member of the audience.

  • Degas assigned the same significance to sculpture as to drawing: “Drawing is a way of thinking, modelling another”.

  • These were destined for a prints journal planned by Degas (together with Camille Pissarro and others), which never came to fruition.

  • [43] In many subsequent paintings, dancers were shown backstage or in rehearsal, emphasizing their status as professionals doing a job.


Works Cited

[‘Pro-Dreyfus included Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Paul Signac and Mary Cassatt. Anti-Dreyfus included Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Auguste Rodin and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.[89]
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ancestral name was Degas. Jean Sutherland Boggs explains that De Gas was the spelling, “with some pretensions, used by the artist’s father when he moved to Paris to establish a French branch of his father’s Neapolitan bank.” While Edgar Degas’s
brother René adopted the still more aristocratic de Gas, the artist reverted to the original spelling, Degas, by the age of thirty. Baumann, et al. 1994, p. 98.
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“In the final inventory of his collection, there were twenty paintings and eighty-eight drawings by Ingres, thirteen paintings and almost two hundred drawings by Delacroix. There were hundreds of lithographs by Daumier. His contemporaries were well
represented—with the exception of Monet, by whom he had nothing.” Gordon and Forge 1988, p. 37
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Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/livetocreate_photography/10172567486/’]