Edgar Degas Biography | Oil Paintings

7-19-1834 Paris, FRA – 9-27-1917 Paris, FRA

Back to Artist IndexView Artists Paintings
Degas, Edgar

Edgar Degas one of the leading members of the Impressionist circle. Destined for the law, Degas’ early artistic inspiration came from the Neoclassical painter Ingres, who taught him the value of sound draftsmanship and from his study of the Old Masters.

Edgar Degas, son of a banker of noble origin, showed little interest in landscape painting but instead devoted his attention to capturing the expressions, gestures, and emotions of human beings, particularly women. By the 1860's, Degas had become part of the Parisian art world. Taking inspiration from Renaissance painting, Degas painted The Bellelli Family, his Italian relatives in a serene, decorous manner. His mix of spontaneous composition and traditional technique contributes to the intrigue of the painting, which manages to be solemn without being rigid.

Degas Elegant Drawing, A Taste for Life.

But, he changed direction after a chance meeting with Edouard Manet in 1861, with whom he shared a similar social and cultural background. Manet introduced him to the Impressionist circle and, in spite of his somewhat aloof manner, Degas was welcomed into the group, participating in most of their shows. The historic exhibit held in Nadar's studio in 1874 marked the height of the Impressionist movement. For some artists, it also marked the end of their most creative period, but this was not true for Degas. The Absinthe Drinker, here the squalor of the bar is reflected in the hopeless expression of this distressed young woman, who is lost in the solitude of drink.

He was also drawn to the many new forms of expression that were beginning to gain popularity in Paris, including photography and elegant Japanese printmaking. During the early 1870's, he began to focus on two of his favorite subjects: the horse races at the Longchamp racetrack and the Opera (particularly its ballerinas). Degas was a fine draftsman, who did not share the same interest in color and light as the other Impressionists. Dancer at the Photographers Studio shows his interest in the subtle combination of the movement and balance of a ballerina en pointe. The recent development of photography suggested new and unexpected ways of viewing the image. Memorable indeed are the rooftops of Paris visible through the studio windows. The skyline, the chimneys, and gray sky recall the first scene of Puccini's La Boheme.

How Photography Influenced Edgar Degas Paintings.

Photography became available to the masses in 1888 when George Eastman created the point-and-shoot camera and Degas became a big fan of photography. But, before 1888, his paintings still had photographic influences, photography before this time was the influence of composition on paintings. Before photography, the artist looked at the vast landscape of subjects to be painted and had to make a mental note and sketch of where the components of the painting were to be placed. It never occurred to anyone that a subject or scene could be off center, cropped, cut a body in half, etc. Edgar Degas saw how photos changed the composition of landscape, people, interiors, and exteriors. This new view of the world can be seen in many of his paintings prior to 1888, way before he took photography very seriously.

Edgar Degas was not a typical Impressionist, having little enthusiasm for either landscape or plain-air painting but he was, interested in capturing the spontaneity of a momentary image. Where most artists sought to present a well-constructed composition, Degas wanted his pictures to look like a discomposed snapshot; he often showed figures from behind or bisected by the picture frame. When using models, he tried to avoid aesthetic, classical poses, preferring to show them yawning, stretching or carrying out mundane tasks. As time passed, Degas abandoned elegant settings and turned his attention to the working class world. In Women Ironing the gestures of the two women, one bent over her ironing, the other caught yawning, are somewhat coarse, but the aristocratic Degas manages nonetheless to offer us an image full of human sympathy and truth, with no trace of vulgarity.

Following his trip to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1873, where he had relatives in the cotton business. Edgar Degas painted A Cotton Office In New Orleans, his only oil painting to be bought by a museum in his lifetime. Degas began to find inspiration in the plain, everyday life of washerwomen, housemaids, and dressmakers living in humble quarters. As part of his study of the human form, he portrayed women ironing, combing their hair or bathing. Partly due to an eye disease that eventually left him blind, Degas began using rapid, more visible brush strokes as almost a kind of shorthand. He also began sculpting in clay and bronze.

Recognized as an important artist in his lifetime, Edgar Degas is now considered one of the founders of Impressionism. He introduced to oil painting what appeared to be inadvertent cut off views, subjects placed off-center, and unusual points of view, which would show up in modern photography years later. Degas did not do these things by accident, but with a very clear intent.

Art Movement History: Impressionism.
Artists Influencing Edgar Degas: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Edouard Manet, Japanese prints.
He Traveled To Italy, USA.
Painters Edgar Degas Influenced: Jean-Louis Forain, Mary Cassatt, Walter Sickert, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso.
Artist's Biography compiled by Albert L. Mansour at The World's Artist.

Edgar Degas Hand-Painted Oil Painting Reproductions.

Edgar Degas Museum Art Replicas on Canvas.