Edgar Degas (19 July 1834 – 27 September 1917) was a French artist known for his paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. He is especially identified with the subject of dance; more than half of his works depict dancers. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, although he rejected the term and preferred to be called a realist.
Early Life and Education
Born into a wealthy family in Paris as Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, he was the eldest of five children. His father was a banker by profession, and his mother was an American from New Orleans.
At a young age, Degas showed a proclivity for drawing and painting. After leaving school, he began studying art seriously at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris under the tutelage of Louis Lamothe, a pupil of Ingres.
Career and Artistic Works
Degas initially painted historical subjects and traditional styles before turning to contemporary themes. He became known for his portrayal of human figures in complex, real-world situations. His masterful skills in drawing and depiction of human movement are best displayed in his pictures of ballet dancers and women at their toilette.
His notable works include:
- The Dance Class (1874): One of his most famous works, showcasing his love of ballet and his precise observation of movement.
- L'Absinthe (1876): A painting that presents a bleak view of Parisian social life.
- Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1881): This sculpture of a young ballet student created controversy when first shown. Degas dressed the wax sculpture in a real tutu and silk ribbon, blurring the boundary between art and reality.
Later Life and Legacy
Degas never married. As he grew older, he became isolated due to his belief in his artistic superiority and his contempt for public opinion. He stopped working in 1912 when his failing eyesight made painting and sculpting too difficult.
Degas died on 27 September 1917. His influence is seen in many subsequent artists, from Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso to numerous contemporary artists. His works are held in many of the world's most esteemed museums, including the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the National Gallery in London. His exploration of non-traditional compositions and the psychological intensity of his portraits had a significant impact on the direction of modern art.