Degas


Edgar Degas - French 1834 – 1917

Degas is famous for his paintings, sculptures, prints, and pastel drawings, depicting landscapes and the subjects of dance, and horses. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, although he rejected the term, preferring to be called a realist. He was a superb draftsman, and particularly masterly in depicting movement. 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 classic art. Degas was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts. When he completed his studies he traveled and lived for three years in Italy. Upon his return to France he set up a studio in Paris. The change in his art was influenced primarily by the example of Édouard Manet, whom Degas met in 1864 in the Louvre while they were both drawing the same subject. He changed course, and by bringing the traditional methods of a history painter to contemporary subject matter, he became a classical painter of modern life.

In 1872, Degas began in 1872 an extended stay in New Orleans, Louisiana, where his brother René and a number of other relatives lived. One of Degas's New Orleans works, “A Cotton Office in New Orleans”, was well received back in France, and was his only work purchased by a museum during his lifetime. Degas returned to Paris in 1873 and joined a group of young artists who were organizing an independent exhibiting society. The group soon became known as the Impressionists.

In the late 1880's, Degas also developed a passion for photography. He photographed many of his friends, often by lamplight. Other photographs were used for reference in some of Degas's drawings and paintings. He was one of the first artists to use this method. Degas's only showing of sculpture during his life took place in 1881 when he exhibited The Little Dancer, 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. In a review, J.-K. Huysmans wrote: "The terrible reality of this statuette evidently produces uneasiness in the spectators; all their notions about traditional sculpture are here overturned. 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."


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