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Edgar Degas 

(1834-1917) 

Presentation by Sarah Hunter 

Honors Art History 

Ms. Stahl 

Introduction to Degas 

This project will explore the life and works of Edgar Degas. I chose to learn about this artist because of the interesting and unique topics he painted. As a dancer, I find Degas' portrayal of a dancer's body to be beautiful and realistic. He painted and sculpted the ballet world extensively, as well as, wild life, such as horses. I find both of his main subjects to be aesthetically pleasing. 

Hilarie-Romaine-Edgar Degas was born in Paris, France on July 19, 1834 as the oldest of five children. His father was Auguste Degas, a banker, and his mother was Celestine Degas. He grew up learning the classical arts in his prestigious secondary school, Lycee Louis-le-Grand. His father noticed Degas' talent for painting and drawing early on, and often took his son to the Louvre and other museums so Degas could copy the works of masters. Soon, Degas was working under Louis Lamothe, a teacher of strict Academic style. At the age of twenty, he enrolled in the Ecole de Beaux-Arts, however he only stayed a year. For three years after that, he traveled around Italy, copying master artist's work. The teachings of Lamothe, frescoes, and paintings that he observed on trips to Italy all had major influences on Degas' work. When he went back to Paris, he began producing paintings. By 1868, he was part of a group of artists who would become master artists known as the Impressionists. When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, Degas volunteered as a member of the French National Guard. Between 1871 and the time of his death, Degas produced numerous paintings and sculptures depicting dancers, women, and horses. Edgar Degas died on September 27, 1917 at the age of 83. During the last few years of his life, he did not produce as many paintings due to his failing eyesight. 

Life of Degas

Along with Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissaro, and Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas was considered an Impressionist. Impressionism was characterized by paintings protraying a moment in time with a realistic point of view. Lines are blurred and shapes were less defined. Colors were muted or harsh due to experimentation with light in a painting. The techniques primarily used by the Impressionists were dabs and strokes, usually to simulate natural lighting. Impressionism was all about depicting the natural appearance of the objectsDegas often called his work "Realistic" rather than Impressionistic, but he was among the French masters of Impressionism. A woman painter, Mary Cassatt, was one particular artist to be influenced by the work of Degas. 

Impressionism 

Title: The Dance Foyer at the Opera on the Rue Peletier

Date: 1872 

Medium: Oil on canvas 

Musee d'Orsay, Paris

Title: Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper

Medium: Graphite heightened with black and white chalk on pink paper

Date: 1873

Detroit Institute of Arts

Title: Race Horses 

Medium: Pastel on wood

Date: 1885 to 1888

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Title: Trotting Horse

Medium: Bronze 

Date: c. 1880-90

Private Collection

Title: Place de la Concorde

Medium: Oil 

Date: 1875

Hermitage Museum 

Title: The Cotton Exchange, New Orleans

Medium: Oil on Canvas 

Date: 1873

Musee des Beaux-Arts, Pau

A "Dancer Posing at a Photographer's" is a unique painting in that it is such a dark piece. Degas uses shadowing to show the interior of the studio and set the atmosphere. The blues and greys are all very similar, making the background seem to blend together. The Impressionistic technique is very clear with the blurred lines and watery look to the entire painting. This piece of art is particularly interesting because it shows the view of the photographer, but it also catches the dancer as she takes a moment to look at herself in the mirror. By capturing this specific moment in time, Degas has created a totally realistic image of the ballerina, such as the photographer would see it. 

Throughout his life, Degas was also interested in painting portraits of people along with his dancers and other artists. "Portrait of Edmond Duranty" exemplifies his work as an Impressionist. This movement was known for the use of vibrant colors and slightly unclear shapes and lines. Here, the blues and reds of the books stand out among the bookshelf, framing the man in the center. There is enough delineation of the edges of the books that the audience can recognize that they are books, but not enough that the shape of the books is very noticeable. I found this painting rather fascinating because of the position that the man in is. It is a very natural slouch, with his head in his hand like he is thinking. To the audience, it feels like they are looking in a private moment, and the man doesn't know that someone is watching him. 

Some Other Works 

 

Biography.com 

 

Degas: Life and Works by Virginia Spate

 

Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Wikipedia (images)

References Consulted