Though he distanced himself from the movement, Edgar Degas is considered as one of the founders of Impressionism, which among other things is characterized by accurate depiction of light, candid poses and vivid colors. Most of his artworks are on the subject of dance and Degas is most famous for capturing movement like no other artist had done before. Here are 10 of his most famous paintings from The Bellelli Family of the 1850s to After the Bath, which he painted in 1895.
#10 The Millinery Shop
French Title: Chez la modiste
Millinery is the designing and manufacture of hats. Over the course of a period of 30 years Edgar Degas created more than 20 artworks of milliner shops. This painting, which depicts a woman examining one of the lady’s hats at a millinery shop, is his largest and only museum scale work on this subject. Advent of factories meant that the private milliner’s shops with handmade works were becoming obsolete. This artwork is not only viewed as a painting about vanity but also as an artist’s tribute to a dying artistic profession he respected.
#9 A Cotton Office in New Orleans
In this painting Degas depicts the cotton brokerage business of his uncle Michel Musson, who is seen examining the quality of raw cotton in the painting. His brother Rene is reading the The Daily Picayune, his brother Achille is leaning against a window wall while others go about their usual business. A Cotton Office in New Orleans was the first painting by Degas to be purchased by a museum, and the first by an Impressionist. It marked the turning point in his career bringing him recognition and financial stability.
#8 The Star
French Title: L’Etoile
Degas is most known for his works which depict dancers. While most of these paintings show dancers rehearsing, this one focuses on a lone ballerina on the stage completing an arabesque. Behind her is a dark figure, who is probably her patron who owns and controls her. But for the moment the young ballerina is basking in the glory of her successful performance. By this stage of his career Degas had become a master in capturing the movements of dancers and this painting is among his most famous works on dancers.
#7 Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde is one of the major public squares in Paris. This artwork depicts a cigar smoking Vicomte Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic with his daughters and dog crossing the famous Parisian square. Lepic was a French artist and archaeologist, and a friend of Degas. The other man in the painting towards far left is writer Daniel Halevy, another friend of Degas. The painting is known for its political commentary and the placement of Lepic’s hat to cover the Strasbourg statue is often pointed out by art enthusiasts.
#6 After the Bath, Woman drying herself
French Title: Après le bain, femme s’essuyant
This artwork belongs to a famous series by Edgar Degas in which he depicted nude women drying themselves with towels, combing their hair, bathing etc. In the series he often showed women in awkward poses which has led to criticism as well as praise. While some believed he depicted the subjects in their ordinary, private poses; others considered the representations as misogynist.
#5 Ballet Rehearsal on Stage
French Title: Répétition d’un ballet sur la scène
From the 1870s till his death, Degas continuously explored his favorite subject which was ballerinas, at work, in rehearsal or at rest. He depicted them from various angles in hundreds of different positions. This is among his several paintings which depict the rehearsal of the ballerinas. It is interesting to note the contrast in the expressions and gestures of the dancers who are rehearsing and ones who are waiting to perform. Ballet Rehearsal paintings are among the most cherished and celebrated masterpieces created by Edgar Degas.
French Title: Intérieur
Also known as The Rape and described as “the most theatrical of all Degas’s compositions of modern life”, this famous work depicts an intriguing scene of a man and a partially clad woman in a bedroom. The scene remains a mystery due to which it is referred to as the most puzzling major work by Degas. Scholars have attempted to read it as a representation of literary works of the time but none of the explanations have been universally accepted. The painting is also known for the masterful use of light and shadow by Degas to create an intense surrounding for the mysterious scene.
#3 The Bellelli Family
French Title: La famille Bellelli
Considered the greatest masterpiece of his early years, this painting depicts his aunt Laura; her husband the baron Gennaro Bellelli; and their daughters Giulia and Giovanna. Laura is pregnant and dressed in black as she is mourning for the death of her father, who is shown in the portrait behind her. Degas lived with his aunt for a period of time and knew about the strains in the family. Also known as Family Portrait, this painting is famous for brilliantly capturing the tension and division in the Bellelli household, the emotional distance between mother and father and its effect on their daughters.
#2 The Dance Class
French Title: La Classe de danse
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. He observed the most spontaneous and natural movements of the dancers at various stages to create imaginary scenes which seemed true to life. The above painting, along with another which shares its title, is the most ambitious and remarkably complex representation of dancers by Edgar Degas. In it the artist masterfully depicts the confusion and various movements of the dancers as the lesson is coming to an end. Perrot is conducting the lesson in the rehearsal room of the opera house with a baton to beat time on the floor.
#1 The Absinthe Drinker
French Title: L’Absinthe
The most famous painting by Edgar Degas is a representation of the increasing social isolation in Paris during its stage of rapid growth. It depicts a woman staring dully with a glass of Absinthe in front of her. A man who looks like an alcoholic sits beside her. Degas asked the famous actress Ellen Andrée and Bohemian artist Marcellin Desboutin to pose as two absinthe addicts in his favorite Parisian cafe, the Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes in Paris. The people in the painting were considered by English critics to be shockingly degraded and clumsy, and the woman was even derided as a whore. Some viewed the painting as a warning lesson against absinthe and the French in general. Later, L’Absinthe gained popularity and influenced works of many artists. It is now known for its uniqueness and considered his greatest masterpiece.