Edgar Degas
1834 - 1912

Content: Degas Subject, Early Years and Atrwork of 1860s and 1870s , Edgar Degas during 1880s - 1890s Period, Last Years

Degas' Subjects

The range of the subjects he tackled in the ensuing years is formidable: ballet dancers in rehearsal and before, during, and after performance; racehorses - before , during and after the race; cafe-concerts and their singers in performance; the opera; acrobats; prostitutes; businessmen; milliners; a pedicurist, musicians; a billiard room. Above all Degas was concerned with the female form: women dancing, women singing, women ironing, women before, during and after bath, women sleeping, combing and braiding their hair.

Early Years and Atrwork of 1860s and 1870s

In 1854 he was to visit wealthy uncles, aunts, and cousins in Naples and Florence where he copied the old masters - Raphael, Mantegna, Bellini, Pollaiuoto, Botticelli and Giotto. As he grew up, his idol was the painter Jean Auguste Ingres, whose example pointed him in the direction of a classical draftsmanship, stressing balance and clarity of outline. After beginning his artistic studies with Louis Lamothes, a pupil of Ingres, he started classes at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Degas' ability was by now considerable; deep immersion in old masters of every conceivable school, but particularly the Italians, was producing polished results. He then set off for an extended tour of Italy which lasted until April 1859, where he continued to devour the old masters and paint family portraits.

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Returning to Paris in 1859, he set up studio in the rue Laval, in the quarter where he was born, and commenced painting portraits of his family and friends and several ambitious historical canvases of them 'Sémiramis Construisant Babylone' (Semiramis Building Babylon, c.1860-2) in which he combined classical and romantic styles.

The friendship with Edouard Manet, and Mones' figural paintings of modern subjects had a great influence on Degas. During the 1850s and 1860s he made over 700 copies of the Renaissance and Classical art by Italian and French masters.

In his portraits Degas show profound understanding of human nature. Famous Degas's portraits are 'Head of a Young Woman' (1867), 'Bellelli Family' (1859), 'Diego Martelli' (1879), and 'Estelle Musson' (1872-1873), the blind wife of Degas's brother Rene. Also he painted portraits of his family: his sister - 'Portrait of Marguerite de Gas' (1858-1860), the 87 years old grandfather of the artist - 'Portrait of Hilaire de Gas' (1857).

His works of the 1860s and 1870s showed the transformation from classical and realist styles to Romanticism and Impressionism. At that time Degas emerged as an artist who integrated several styles, old and new, and created his own, he also made his original art filled with subtle allusions to works of the Old Masters.

Degas lived with relatives in New Orleans, Louisiana for few months during 1872-1873. One of the paintings he did there and then brought back to France, 'The Cotton Exchange at New Orleans' got him favorable attention, and was his only work purchased by a museum during his lifetime.

Degas stopped exhibiting at official Salon in Paris the in 1874.

He joined the Impressionists and showed most of his art works alongside those of the Impressionists, including Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Berthe Morisot, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Camille Pissarro in their exhibitions from 1874 to 1886.

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Edgar Degas during 1880s - 1890s Period

Pastels helped Degas in producing qualities of airiness and lightness, as in the' Ballerina and Lady with Fan' (1885).

In the late 1880s, with his eyesight failing and limited ability to work, Degas gradually shifted to sculpture.
His bronze and painted wax figures of horses and dancers, like the 'Little Dancer of Fourteen Years' (1880-1881), are often dressed in real costumes and captured the moment of transition between one position to another, giving the statues a real sense of immediacy and motion.

The subject of the female nude increasingly occupied Degas's work during the last two decades of his career. He abandoned many of his scenes of modern life to concentrate on images of ballet dancers and female bathers. Degas experimented with highly artificial poses in his female bathers, exploring the possibilities of presenting a figure in an interior space.

Because of his poor eyesight during the 1890s he worked only on the large compositions.

Last Years

From the mid-1870s he worked mostly in pastel; and in his last years, when his sight was failing, he abandoned oil completely in favor of pastel, which he handled more broadly and with greater freedom than
before.By 1908 he was no longer able to sculpt or paint, and he wandered the streets of Paris.

When he died in 1917, Degas left behind some 2,000 paintings and 150 sculptures.

During his artistic career - about 60 years out of the 83 which he lived, Edgar Degas left more than 2000 oil paintings and pastels and 150 sculptures.

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