Edgar Degas was a French artist who is considered one of the founders of the art movement Impressionism. Apart from being a renowned painter and sculptor, Degas was also a prominent printmaker and draftsman. He is most famous for his works which depict dancers. Know more about the life, art and achievements of Edgar Degas through these 10 interesting facts.
#1 He was primarily raised by his father as his mother died when he was 13
Born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas on 19 July 1834 in Paris, France, Edgar was the eldest of five children of Augustin De Gas, a banker, and Celestine Musson De Gas. His family was moderately wealthy and at the age of 11, Edgar was enrolled in Lycée Louis-le-Grand, one of the leading schools not only in Paris but in entire France. Edgar lost his mother when he was 13. His father encouraged his artistic talents and by the time Edgar was 18, he had turned his room at his house into an artist’s studio.
#2 The Bellelli Family is considered his early masterpiece
In 1855, at the age of 20, Degas joined the École des Beaux-Arts, an influential art school in Paris. However the following year he abandoned his studies in Paris and traveled to Italy, where for the next three years he became engrossed in painting and sculpture. Here Degas made numerous rapid pencil copies of the works of artists he admired including Giotto, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Titian. Also, while living in Italy with his aunt Laura and her husband Gennaro Bellelli, Degas began work on his painting The Bellelli Family. Completed in 1867, the portrait is considered the greatest masterpiece of his early years.
#3 His greatest inspirations were Ingres and Delacroix
The two artists whose works had the deepest influence on Degas were Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Eugene Delacroix. Ingres was a champion of line whose work is marked by clarity of outline and carefully modeled form. Delacroix was his chief rival and was known for his emphasis on color and movement. Edgar Degas’ reverence for two opposing styles of the time led to his masterpieces of later years which were vigorously drawn, captured movement like never before and were brilliantly colored.
#4 A Cotton Office in New Orleans brought him fame and financial success
The early works of Degas were history paintings like the famous Young Spartans Exercising; and portraits depicting family members. Among his paintings of family members was A Cotton Office in New Orleans, which was his only work purchased by a museum during his life. The painting was a turning point in his career bringing him recognition and financial stability. By late 1860s, Degas moved from history to scenes of contemporary life. His paintings of this period include his famous depictions of horses and their riders. Also depictions of women started to become his most favored subject.
#5 Degas is most famous for his paintings which depict dancers
Edgar Degas was a regular visitor of the old Paris Opera House and was even allowed access to the dance classes as he was a friend of Jules Perrot, the famous ballet master. From the 1870s till his death, Degas continuously explored the subject of dance which accounts for a large portion of his work. He is most famous for his paintings of ballerinas, at work, in rehearsal or at rest. He depicted them from various angles in hundreds of different positions. Degas captured movement like never before which is one of the reasons of the legendary status of his dance paintings.
#6 Edgar Degas is considered as one of the founders of the art movement Impressionism
The art movement Impressionism, which among other things is characterized by accurate depiction of light, candid poses and vivid colors, emerged in France in the 1870s. Edgar Degas joined the art group which would later emerge as the Impressionists. He exhibited his work in several Impressionist Exhibitions. Degas however disliked the term Impressionist and later distanced himself from the movement. Unlike Impressionists, his paintings were not spontaneous and Degas ridiculed their practice of painting outside. Nonetheless his work can more accurately be associated with Impressionism than any other art movement and Edgar Degas is considered as one of the founders of the movement.
#7 His most famous painting is L’Absinthe
The most famous painting by Edgar Degas is L’Absinthe (The Absinthe Drinker), which is considered a masterful representation of the isolation in Paris during its rapid growth. Apart from his paintings, Edgar Degas is famous for his drawings and sculptures. Degas is known as a superb draftsman. He also created numerous sculptures during a span of four decades. However his only sculpture that was exhibited during his lifetime was Little Dancer of Fourteen Years. Originally sculpted in wax and around two-thirds life size, it is one of his most famous works in any media.
#8 Degas sided with “anti-Dreyfusards” during the Dreyfus Affair
In the mid-1890s France was gripped with one of the tensest political dramas in its history known as the Dreyfus Affair. Involving an officer of Jewish background named Alfred Dreyfus it divided French society into two sections. Edgar Degas sided with the “anti-Dreyfusards”. His antisemitism alienated him from many of his friends. In his last years, Degas was troubled with eye problems, had to wear dark glasses outdoors and quit work in 1912. Edgar Degas died in Paris on September 27, 1917. He was 83 years old. Degas never married. He did have close relationships with several females, most prominently American painter Mary Cassatt.
#9 He is considered a misogynist by several critics
Degas made a series of drawings which showed naked women in awkward poses while drying themselves with towels, combing their hair, bathing etc. This series is among his works which have since been denounced by several critics as misogynist. Also Degas infamously referred to the dancers he drew as his “little monkey girls” and said that “I have perhaps too often considered woman as an animal.” His misogynist and anti-Semitic views have somewhat marred his legacy.
#10 Degas is credited with combining Classicism with Impressionism
Many unseen artworks of Edgar Degas were exhibited after his death enhancing his artistic reputation not only as a painter but also in the fields of drawing, printmaking and sculpture. Today Degas is considered a pioneer of the Impressionism movement. He is credited with combining the Classical methods which he mastered early on with Impressionistic sensibilities thus giving rise to brilliant artworks which were a source of inspiration for future generations of artists.