Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Degas in a Green Jacket
Oil on canvas, 1855-1856
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Self Portrait
Oil on canvas
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Hillaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas (he will later abandoned this pretentious spelling of the family name in favour of Degas) was born on July 19th, 1834 in Paris, France, to Célestine Musson De Gas and Augustin De Gas, a banker.
At the age of 11, Degas began his schooling in the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and at the age of 18, Degas has turned a room in his family home into an artist's studio and has begun copying the masterworks in the Louvre. His father, however, expected him to study law.
In 1853 Degas graduated from the Lycée Louis-le-Grand with a baccalauréat in literature and in November registered at the Faculty of Law of the University of Paris.
Degas met Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, whom he revered, in 1855. Ingres advised Degas to "draw lines, young man, many lines". In April Degas received admission to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he studied drawing with Louis Lamothe.
Degas travelled to Italy in July of 1856 and remained there for three years. There he copied the works of masters such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian. During this period Degas became accomplished in the techniques of high, academic and classical art.
While copying in the Louvre, Degas met Edouard Manet, who will later influenced his direction considerably.
Degas exhibited his work for the first time at the Paris Salon, at the age of 31, where the jury accepted his painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages.
Then, five years later, at the outbreak of the Franco-PrussianWar, Degas enlisted in the National Guard. After the war, two years later, Degas travelled to New Orleans, Louisiana, where his brother René and a number of other relatives lived. There he painted The Cotton Exchange at New Orleans, his only work to be purchased by a museum during his lifetime. He returned to Paris in 1873.
Degas's father died when Degas was 40 years old, and it is revealed that his brother René has amassed substantial business debts. Degas sold his house and art collection to preserve the family name, and now depended on the sale of his artwork for income. He collaborated with a group of young artists to organize an independent exhibiting society. The group's exhibitions were dubbed the "Impressionist Exhibitions". The group holds its last exhibition and disbanded in 1885.
Degas rejecteded the label "Impressionist" that the press had created for the group and his insisting on including traditional artists in the exhibitions upset the other group members.
He stopped working in 1912, after having lived an isolated life for nearly a decade.
On September 27, Degas died in Paris, in 1917, at the age of 83. He had outlived many of his closest friends and lived his last years in gloomy isolation.
(Written by Pietya Myshkin from Mootnotes &
It was 1868 that he had shown his first study of a dancer, and in numerous pastels he proclaimed himself the painter of the ballet, representing its figurantes in every attitude with more constant aim at truth than grace. Several of his works may be seen at the Luxembourg Gallery, to which they were bequeathed, among a collection of impressionist pictures, by M. Caillebotte [1848-1894].

Dance Class
Oil on canvas, 1874
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Ballet Rehearsal on Stage
Oil on canvas, 1874
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

In many subsequent paintings dancers were shown backstage or in rehearsal, emphasizing their status as professionals doing a job. Degas began to paint café life as well. He urged other artists to paint "real life" instead of traditional mythological or historical paintings, and the few literary scenes he painted were modern and of highly ambiguous content. For example, Interior (which has also been called The Rape) has presented a conundrum to art historians in search of a literary source; internal evidence suggests that it may be based on a scene from Thérèse Raquin.

Oil on canvas
92 cm × 68 cm (36 in × 27 in)
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As his subject matter changed, so, too, did Degas' technique. The dark palette that bore the influence of Dutch painting gave way to the use of vivid colors and bold brushstrokes. Paintings such as Place de la Concorde read as "snapshots," freezing moments of time to portray them accurately, imparting a sense of movement. The changes to his palette, brushwork, and sense of composition all evidence the influence that both the Impressionist movement and modern photography, with its spontaneous images and off-kilter angles, had on his work.

Place de la Concorde
oil on canvas
78.4 cm × 117.5 cm (30.9 in × 46.3 in)
Hermitage Museum
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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. Above the musicians can be seen only the legs and tutus of the dancers onstage, their figures cropped by the edge of the painting. Art historian Charles Stuckey has pointed out that the viewpoint is that of a distracted spectator at a ballet, and 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'."

The Orchestra of the Opéra
Oil on canvas, c.1870
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

At the Milliner's
Pastel on gray heavy wove paper, 1882
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid

Portrait of a Young Woman
Oil on canvas
10 5/8 x 8 5/8 in (27 x 22 cm)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
From Artchive .com

Degas' mature style is distinguished by conspicuously unfinished passages, even in otherwise tightly rendered paintings. He frequently blamed his eye troubles for his inability to finish, an explanation that met with some skepticism from colleagues and collectors who reasoned, as Stuckey explains, that "his pictures could hardly have been executed by anyone with inadequate vision." The artist provided another clue when he described his predilection "to begin a hundred things and not finish one of them," and was in any case notoriously reluctant to consider a painting complete.
His interest in portraiture led him 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. In his 1879 Portraits, At the Stock Exchange, he portrayed a group of Jewish businessmen with a hint of antisemitism; while in his paintings of dancers and laundresses, he reveals their occupations not only by their dress and activities but also by their body type. His ballerinas exhibit an athletic physicality, while his laundresses are heavy and solid.

At the Stock Exchange
c. 1879
Oil on canvas
39 3/8 x 32 1/4 in. (100 x 82 cm)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris

By the later 1870s Degas had mastered not only the traditional medium of oil on canvas, but pastel as well. The dry medium, which he applied in complex layers and textures, enabled him more easily to reconcile his facility for line with a growing interest in expressive color.
In the mid-1870s he also returned to the medium of etching, which he had neglected for ten years, and began experimenting with less traditional printmaking media—lithographs and experimental monotypes. He was especially fascinated by the effects produced by monotype, and frequently reworked the printed images with pastel.
These changes in media engendered the paintings that Degas would produce in later life. Degas began to draw and paint women drying themselves with towels, combing their hair, and bathing (see: After the Bath). The strokes that model the form are scribbled more freely than before; backgrounds are simplified.
The meticulous naturalism of his youth gave way to an increasing abstraction of form. 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. Ironically, it is these paintings, created late in his life, and after the heyday of the Impressionist movement, that most obviously use the coloristic techniques of Impressionism.
For all the stylistic evolution, certain features of Degas's work remained the same throughout his life. He always painted indoors, preferring to work in his studio, either from memory or using models. The figure remained his primary subject; his few landscapes were produced from memory or imagination. It was not unusual for him to repeat a subject many times, varying the composition or treatment. He was a deliberative artist whose works, as Andrew Forge has written, "were prepared, calculated, practiced, developed in stages. They were made up of parts. The adjustment of each part to the whole, their linear arrangement, was the occasion for infinite reflection and experiment.
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Song of the Dog
Gouache, c.1876-1877
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Woman Ironing
Oil on canvas, c.1869
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Women at work provided inspiration for Degas. In addition to ballet dancers and cabaret singers, he also painted milliners and dressmakers, laundresses and ironers -- such as the young woman here. Writer Edmond de Goncourt described a visit to Degas' studio when the artist showed him "washerwomen and still more washerwomen...." Degas was interested in their movements and postures, the patterns and rhythms of their work. Degas, de Goncourt continued, had gone about "speaking their language, explaining to us technically the downward pressing and circular strokes of the iron, etc...."
Laundresses also appeared as characters in newly popular realistic novels, which detailed the difficult lives of these women. They worked long, hot hours for low wages, and because they wore loose clothing and made deliveries to men's apartments, their morals were often questioned. Degas, however, seems not to have been interested in their social situation so much as in their characteristic gestures -- in the line of his ironer's body as she leans into her work, in the soft curtain of color provided by the garments that hang around her, in the crisp shirt folded on the table.
(Copyright © 2009 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC)

Ballerina and Lady with a Fan
Pastel on paper, 1885
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Beach Scene
Oil on paper mounted on board, 1876
National Gallery, London
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Edgar Degas

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