Edgar Degas
1834 - 1912

Details of Degas' Life and Biography

Edgar Degas came in the world on 19th July 1834 in a family of a wealthy banker. He was the oldest of five children, two brothers and two sisters. His father, Augustin de Gas, was a prosperous Neapolitan banker, his mother, Celestine Musson, was from New Orleans and belonged to a French family that settled in America.

From 1845 to 1852 he received a classical education at Lycee Louis-le-Gran. There he also met his long-time friends Henri Rouart, Paul Valpinçon and Ludovic Halevy. He abandoned the law career, determined to become an artist.

From an early age Degas showed an interest in art and his parents allowing him to set up a studio in the house. Amongst the Degas' friends were several eminently wealthy art collectors and government officials who encouraged Edgar, already self-taught, by allowing him to study and copy their art treasures. By the time he was eighteen Degas had also obtained permission to copy at the Louvre.

In 1854 he was to visit wealthy uncles, aunts, and cousins in Naples and Florence.

Degas spend three years in Italy where he copied the old masters.

In 1855 he entered the studio of Louis Lamothe (a pupil of Ingres), and later spent a few months at the École des Beaux Arts. In 1856 he left for Italy, spending three years in Naples, Florence and especially Rome.

Returning to Paris in 1859, he painted portraits of his family and friends and a number of historical subjects.

During the period from 1865 to 1870 Degas exhibited each year at the Paris Salon.

During the Franco-Prussian war in 1870-1871 Degas served in the in the artillery division of the French national guard. At the beginning of the mid-1870s Degas suffered from failing eyesight.

In 1872 he did exhibit with the Society of French Artists at an exhibition in London organized by the dealer Durand-Ruel.

In October 1872, Degas visited the United States for five months, spending time in New Orleans, Louisiana, where some members of his family were in the cotton business.

Returning to France in 1873, he found a very different country from the one he had left and the conservative bourgeoisie now in control of the government and the artistic institutions

In December 1873 Degas visited his seriously ill father in Italy, who died in Naples the following February, leaving the family banking business in financial difficulties.

Edgar Degas produced many of his paintings and pastels of the racecourse, music hall, cafe, and ballet between 1873 and 1883. In the 1880s, when his eyesight began to fail, Degas began increasingly to work in two new media that did not require intense visual acuity: sculpture and pastel. He had no financial problems, and he had established his reputation as a painter. Degas stopped exhibiting at the respected Salon in 1874 and joined the Impressionists, showing some of his art work in their exhibitions from 1874 to 1886.

His first personal exhibition, which was held at the Durand-Ruel gallery in 1892.

In the 1890's Degas continued to work with his favorite themes of dancers, bathers and jockeys. But besides these he also became interested in the countryside.

Degas continued to struggle against his blindness and worked up to about 1912 when he left his apartment in Rue Victor-Massé where he had lived for the past quarter century and move to a more convenient Boulevard de Clichy. Despite the huge success and high prices of his works from 1900 onwards, he became sad and indifferent to the glory. Once he had said "I would like to be famous but unknown".

As Degas' eyesight become worse, he became an increasingly eccentric figure. In the last years of his life, he was almost totally blind. Edgar Degas died on 27 September 1917, in Paris, leaving behind in his studio an important collection of drawings and paintings by his contemporaries as well as a number of statues crafted in wax and metal, which were cast in bronze after his death.

In his personal life Degas was a confirmed bachelor but a devoted friend to those who could conquer the barrier of prickliness he erected around himself. Degas was not well known to the public, and his true artistic stature did not become evident until after his death.