Impressionist Artists: Edgar Degas - 5 Interesting Facts

Lorenzo Pagans and Auguste de Gas by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas painted this canvas of his father performing for the family; a frequent activity for them.
Edgar Degas painted this canvas of his father performing for the family; a frequent activity for them.

Background

Hilarie Germain Edgar de Gas was born on the 19th July 1834. Opera played a large part in his upbringing, with his mother (who died when he was 13) frequently singing operatic numbers and often giving recitals organised by his father. Before taking up art as a profession, Degas actually studied to become a lawyer. He served in the French National Guard’s artillery division during the Franco-Prussian war between 1870-71. In October 1872, Degas travelled to America and spent five months in New Orleans living with family. He was almost obsessed with the human form, especially women and at least later on in his career painted almost exclusively woman in various places, positions and stages of undress.

Gentlemen Jockeys before the Start - Edgar Degas

'Gentlemen Jockeys' was one of many canvases that Degas painted at the races
'Gentlemen Jockeys' was one of many canvases that Degas painted at the races

Daughter of Jephtha by Edgar Degas

Daughter of Jephtha was painted in 1860, at a time when Degas was very interested in Biblical depictions.
Daughter of Jephtha was painted in 1860, at a time when Degas was very interested in Biblical depictions.

Edgar Degas: 5 Interesting Facts

1. Of all the Impressionist artists, Degas had the closest affinity with Edouard Manet. They were closest in age and both came from wealthy, Parisian aristocratic families whereas many of the others, like Monet and Renoir struggled to buy paint. Being the wealthier of the set explains why it is really only these two who spent time at the racecourses painting 'plein air' there. Racing was a new pastime that had recently come over the channel from England, and as such was a luxury that only the aristocracy could afford. Degas also spent some time with Manet in Boulogne where they painted outdoor landscapes, no doubt Manet was influencing Degas to adopt a more Impressionist style.

2. After travelling around Italy and viewing the work of the classical painters, Edgar Degas first found success painting historical and biblical canvases. It was his 1861 painting, Daughter of Jephtha that first got him recognition by the Parisian Salon and since he had no financial constraints that might hamper his ability to continually produce high quality works, he was able to quickly start earning himself a living. It was during his travels ,when he was copying the classical artworks, that he became skilled at drawing people and this allowed to him to earn some money painting family portraits on commission.

Ballet Dancers in Butterfly Costumes by Edgar Degas

I love the vivid colours used in 'Ballet Dancers in Butterfly Costumes'. These colours are achieved through the use of gouache.
I love the vivid colours used in 'Ballet Dancers in Butterfly Costumes'. These colours are achieved through the use of gouache.

Dancers Bending Down by Edgar Degas

Another painting of ballet dancers by Degas in 1885 just because they're excellent paintings
Another painting of ballet dancers by Degas in 1885 just because they're excellent paintings

The Little Dancer aged 14 by Edgar Degas

Of the many sculptures that Degas created, The Little Dancer is the most well known
Of the many sculptures that Degas created, The Little Dancer is the most well known

3. Edgar Degas is most famously known for painting ballet dancers. Up until the 1870s he really struggled to find any real direction to his work; he was interested in the human form, had painted historical and biblical scenes as well as portraits and had experimented with the Impressionist ‘plein air’ but he hadn’t found his niche that really made him stand out uniquely until he started painting ballet dancers. When you look at many of his paintings you notice that the dancers on the edge of the canvas are often partially cut off, which achieves the very difficult feat of giving the impression of movement in a painting. A good example of this is the ‘Ballet Dancers in Butterfly Costumes,’ which always appears to me like you are being given a glimpse of a very busy backstage life when in fact they are most likely to be models in his studio.

4. Edgar Degas participated in all eight of the Impressionist exhibitions after rejecting the constraints of the Paris Salon, but his work stood out from the other Impressionist artists. While their paintings were generally landscapes or gentle portraits of each other or standard models, Degas’ were more striking, bolder and captured real life, whether it was a grandeur scene from an opera or ballet or back alley squalor. His perspective was different from the other Impressionists, he was no doubt more complex and not so concerned with making his paintings pleasurable to look at, instead looking to highlight contrasts in what he saw; he was never described as encapsulating a conventional sense of beauty.

5. In the late 1870s Degas' sight began to fail and as well as painting he began sculpting bronze statues of ballet dancers and horses, something which he had been quietly experimenting with for several years. One of his most famous bronze statues is ‘The Little Dancer aged 14’. Even in this new medium he still manages to capture that same sense of movement that he portrayed in his paintings. Unlike most other painters, Edgar Degas didn’t paint up to the day he died. With his failing eyesight it became harder to paint and he eventually gave it up after being forced to move studios. Instead he contented himself with buying the art of his contemporaries and spent a lot of time locked in the memories of these and his own works of art. On the 27th September 1917 Degas died in Paris, many believe he had isolated himself from his circles of friends and died a lonely eccentric.

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Comments 18 comments

cathrine  6 years ago

very interesting (it helped me with my homework)


jenblacksheep profile image

jenblacksheep 6 years ago from England Author

I'm glad I could help :D I found it very interesting too!


cathrine  6 years ago

do u like degas


cathrine  6 years ago

i am hoping to be an artist and this website is great if you need any information


jenblacksheep profile image

jenblacksheep 6 years ago from England Author

I never really knew much about Impressionist artists but something made me decide to research and write about them and I enjoyed learning all these facts. I'm not really an artist but I do like to draw sometimes, and like Degas I've always liked drawing people so I can see the appeal of drawing ballet dancers.


Jon Green profile image

Jon Green 6 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

Hi - great pictures, but the dates are very strange!!


jenblacksheep profile image

jenblacksheep 6 years ago from England Author

Oh no! I can't believe I've never noticed that. Thanx for pointing it out!!


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas

Very well written. I love Degas's ballet dancers paintings they always take my breath away. Lovely. Cheers.


HubCrafter profile image

HubCrafter 6 years ago from Arizona

Hi Jen:

What a lovely reminder for us all to go and look with new eyes at this marvelous painter.

Degas loved Japanese prints. This is where his unusual designs come from...his unusual vantage points and his cutoff figures for example. He also loved and experimented with the "new" technology of the camera. Here too, he found the cutoff image and the varied viewpoints that a camera allows.

As for "plein-air" painting, he was against it. He mocked the notion, saying he preferred the air of the museum rather than the seashore. He said the air of the Old Master's was not the air we breathe.

He also said his Art was never spontaneous. Far from it, Degas would draw the same figure a hundred times; engraining the pose into his memory. His intention, he said was to draw the figure's movement trying again and again until he could capture the essence of the pose in all it's varied nuances. So, no, he was not a spontaneous painter. He was very methodical. The result looked like he'd captured the spontaneous gesture.. but it took tremendous effort to achieve these seemingly effortless results.

Regarding the "Little Dancer"; when first displayed, viewers were aghast at the sight of her. No one had ever included real clothing on a sculpture before. And her facial expression was seen as if she was cruelly misshapen. Degas knew the "little rats" (as these impoverished little dancers were called), he knew that they toiled just as hard and long as he did for their Art. The twisted dance poses distorted their limbs and marked their expressions with pain only slightly subdued by the Dance Master's demands to smile and float on the air!


jenblacksheep profile image

jenblacksheep 6 years ago from England Author

Wow, thanks for all that info; very interesting. I had read about the Japanese designs, a lot of the Impressionists were influenced by them, the rest of the info I didn't know, so thanx for educating me and for commenting


HubCrafter profile image

HubCrafter 6 years ago from Arizona

Thanks for writing about one of my favorite artists!

As a young man, I wanted to be an artist. After finding Degas, I read everything I could find about him (and many other extraordinary artists) for many years.

The books I read introduced me to a world of creativity I hadn't known existed. Sadly, by comparison, today's online sources have little of the richness and informed enthusiasm of those books. Most were written by men and women who had dedicated their lives to the fine arts and scholarship. I miss the company of those books. They were as enthusiastic about Degas, and so many other amazing artists, as I was.


george 6 years ago

OMG

OMG

OMG

LOL :)


tomgurney profile image

tomgurney 6 years ago from London

Great hubpage, beautiful Degas paintings! I believe there is an exhibition on Degas dancers in London, UK next year for anyone interested and lives in that area. I'm going!


glowgirl 5 years ago

omg i never knew that thanx


The commentor 5 years ago

This page was very interesting and helpful to me! I learned about Degas in Art class but didn't know all these facts about him! I like drawing or doodling myself so he is very inspiring!!!!


redrose274 4 years ago

toatlly helped me with my social studies I wish he would have come and painted me when i dance. (Hint: I'm a dancer mostly in ballet, too!)


Claudia Tello profile image

Claudia Tello 4 years ago from Mexico

Hi jenblacksheep, I selected your hub as a high quality hub to backlink from my recently published "Museo Soumaya by the Richest Man in the World" Hub. I did so using the word Degas as anchor text. Thanks for writing good articles as this one.


Crazy and Random 4 years ago

He must be very famous because it says that he is famous for many different kinds of artwork he has done. Most people that are famous for their artwork are only famous for one type of art they do. For example: a painter. But he is famous for more than just a painter which is great for him and I love his artwork because it is just so creative and good.

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