Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

French painter and sculptor Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas whose groundbreaking paintings, skillful drawings, and acumen of movement made him a late-19th century modern art master. Usually classified as an Impressionist because he exhibited with them, Degas was also trained in classical drafting. His dislike for painting directly from nature ironically represented a related alternative to the impressionism movement.

Edgar Degas was born into a well-to-do family on July 19, 1834 in Paris and began painting very early in life. While studying at the cole des Beaux-Arts, Degas developed his drawing skills that would characterize his work. When the impressionist movement was influencing the culture in 1865, Degas gave up academic subjects in favor of contemporary themes. Degas preferred, unlike the impressionists, to work inside a studio, shunning the natural light that so fascinated the impressionists. He encouraged his fellow artists to abandon depicting the mythological and historical, and instead paint the real life that surrounded them.

Theatrical subjects mesmerized Edgar Degas, and many Degas paintings depict racecourses, theatres, cafes, music halls, or boudoirs. Degas also had an objective affinity for women and his paintings and later sculptures depict female dancers, milliners and laundresses in natural and spontaneous poses, such as Little Dancer Fourteen Years Old.

Edgar Degas s eyesight began to fail in the 1880s, so he increased his work in new milieus that did not require perfect vision: sculpture and pastels. Much like his paintings, Degas s sculptures depicted action as well as women. Even though his physical limitations excluded the possibility for fine lines and details, these paintings and sculptures possess a simple beauty and expressive emotion that is far beyond his other works.

Edgar Degas was never well known during his life; the public was not aware of his true artistic stature until after his death in Paris on September 27, 1917.


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