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Edgar Degas

Three Sketches of a Dancer By Edgar Degas

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Dancers Practicing at the Barre By Edgar Degas

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The Dance Class 1874 By Edgar Degas

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Dancer Adjusting Slipper By Edgar Degas

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Bathing Nude Blue By Edgar Degas

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Dancer By Edgar Degas

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Bather Drying Herself By Edgar Degas

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Woman Combing Her Hair By Edgar Degas

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Two Dancers in Green By Edgar Degas

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Two Dancers By Edgar Degas

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Study of a Draped Figure By Edgar Degas

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Dancer in Green By Edgar Degas

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The Star By Edgar Degas

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Little Girl Practicing at the Barre By Edgar Degas

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Dancer with a Fan By Edgar Degas

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Edgar Degas was one of the founders of Impressionism, although he didn’t consider himself an Impressionist painter. Degas believed he was a Realist or Independent. He is best known as the painter of ballerinas, but he contributed to art more than just this. Degas used oils and pastels to depict scenes of modern Parisian life. He captured the movements of the galloping horses and the grace of ballerinas leaping through the air. Besides paintings, Degas created bronze sculptures, the best known of the bunch being Little Dancer Ages Fourteen (1879-81). At the Canvas Art Factory, we have reproduced many of Degas’s original work in the highest quality, hand-stretched, gallery wrapped canvases featuring your favourite pieces from the Parisian Master. 

Early Life

Edgar Degas was born in 1843 in Paris, France. He came from a wealthy family who had business in banking. After recognising his son’s artistic gifts, Degas’s father took him to museums around Paris, where he began copying the masterpieces by Italian masters. In 1855, his father, who was a great admirer of art, sent his son to the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.

In the late 1850s, Degas took long trips to Italy and became exposed to the paintings and frescoes; he spent several years in Florence, Naples, and Rome. He returned to Paris in 1859. His first painting was accepted into the French Salon in 1865; The Misfortunes of the City of Orleans is a history painting, and his first and last painting with an academic subject. To reiterate, artworks emerging from the academies were based on mythological, historical, and religious subjects. Degas preferred to paint scenes from modern life. These include ballet dancers, laundresses, milliners, and other inhabitants of Paris. Some urban activities Degas painted include horse racing. 

Why did Edgar Degas paint ballerinas?

Edgar Degas was fascinated by ballet to the point of obsession. As he came from a wealthy family, it was most likely that he had been in the audience, watching a gorgeous ballet production, before he thought to capture the movements of these young dancers in oil and pastels.

In the 1870s, he became more and more interested in the subject and his complete body of work includes about 1,500 artworks on the subject of ballet. Degas frequented the classrooms of Palais Garnier, which opened in 1875. There, some of the city’s poorest girls struggled to win a role in the ballets. Degas told the Paris art dealer Ambroise Vollard, “People call me the painter of dancing girls. It has never occurred to them that my chief interest in dancers lies in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes.”

Degas’s ballerina artworks are not just studies on beauty. He captures the movement of dance; he captures the line and form of the poses; he captures these at different viewpoints and angles.

Artworks

To understand the artwork of Edgar Degas, one has to look at his influences. As we’ve said, Parisian modern life influenced Degas more than the Academy. But world affairs also affected his artworks. When trade opened up with Japan in 1854, Degas and many other French artists were influenced by Japanese prints. What Degas took away from the Japanese prints were the compositions and points of view, whereas artists like Vincent van Gogh also took away their use of contradictory colours. Besides Japanese wood prints and Parisian modern life, Degas had been influenced by Italian art. Let’s see some of his most outstanding artworks.

A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers (1865)

At first glance, A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers is a wonderful burst of colour. The colour comes from the bouquet of flowers seemingly bursting from the vase. It is positioned in the centre of the painting. A woman sits to its right, almost falling out of the frame. Edgar Degas had been influenced by the Italian masters since he first saw them in the Louvre as a child. His 1865 painting A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers was influenced by the sixteenth-century Italian masters known as the Mannerists. Degas took from the Mannerists their framing techniques, where their subjects were partly cut off in the composition.

The Dance Class (1874)

The artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres advised Degas to paint from memory, and that is what Degas did in The Dance Class. In the scene, we see the master ballet teacher Jules Perrot standing in the Paris Opera which had burnt down the previous year. Ballerinas and their teachers are not the only people depicted in this scene. Standing in the back of the classroom are the mothers to the ballerinas, watching, as Degas watches, the girls stretch and pose and leap around the room in tutus tied with colourful bows. You can see their reflection in the mirror hung on the wall. The opera singer Jean-Baptiste Faure commissioned this painting and as a tribute to the man, Degas painted a post on the green wall of Rossini’s Guillaume

Race Horses (1885-88)

Paris was changing in the late 1800s. Industrialisation was well on its way and French people moving from the countryside to big cities like Paris were thriving. They enjoyed leisure time in the countryside and taking part in activities such as horse racing. Like Degas, Edouard Manet was depicting horse racing as well. In fact, the two Impressionist artists often attended the races together, depicting the races in sketches and using these sketches to complete a larger painting. Degas’s Race Horses was one of several paintings Degas completed on the subject of horse racing.

Did Degas go blind?

By the 1880s, Edgar Degas’s eyesight had begun to fail. He had the unfortunate luck of suffering an injury during the Franco-Prussian war which led scholars to believe this as the cause for his failing eyesight. The French artist continued painting despite the hindrance of his sight, focusing solely on nudes and dancers. By the end of his life, he could barely make out shapes and had to paint from memory and imagination.

Edgar Degas died at the age of eighty-three in 1917. He had left his Montmarte studio in 1912. 

Sources

https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dgsp/hd_dgsp.htm

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437994

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/degas-and-his-dancers-79455990/

https://impressionistarts.com/was-degas-blind

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