Happy birthday Edgar Degas!

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Edgar Degas (July 19, 1834—September 27, 1917) was a French painter and sculptor. He was one of the French Impressionists. He is perhaps best known for his illustration of dancers and revered for his depiction of human emotion and isolation.

Degas was born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas in Paris, France to Célestine Musson De Gas and Augustin De Gas. His father was a banker and his mother was a Creole from New Orleans. Degas began painting early on, already creating his own studio by the time graduated from Lycée Louis-le-Grand at the age of 18.

Despite his father's pressure to go to become a lawyer, Degas devoted much of his energy to copying and painting. He registered as a copyist at the Louvre museum, and by 1856 was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts. After just one year, he left for Italy and stayed with his aunt for three years, meticulously studying the works of classic artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian.

The Rehearsal

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In 1859, Degas returned to Paris. He began painting large portraits of his family members and landscapes. He then submitted his work to the Salon, who had control over public exhibitions. Receiving little notice, he, alongside fellow artist Edouard Manet, developed a resentment for the art establishment, believing it needed to be more open to modern techniques.

The Star (Dancer on Stage)

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Degas enlisted in the National Guard after the outbreak of the Franco Prussian War in 1870. By 1872, the war had ended, but France's political tumult was still a force in Paris. Degas left to stay with relatives in New Orleans. While there, he completed A Cotton Office in New Orleans. The piece was well-received in France, but ultimately would become the only piece he would sell to a museum during his lifetime.

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A Cotton Office in New Orleans, source.

Soon after he returned to Paris in 1873, Degas' father passed away. He then found that his brother had amassed large debts while he was away. To pay them off, he sold his house and the art he had collected. In a state of financial ruin, he spent the next decade living off sales of his own work. He became involved with a group of young artists who were challenging the Salon's authority, the Société Anonyme des Artistes—later known as the Impressionists. He became a leader within the group, despite the fact that he was decidedly more conservative than many of the other members. During this period, his works included

The Dance Class (1871),

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The Dancing Class (1874) 

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Woman Ironing (1873)

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and Dancers Practicing at the Bar (1877).

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He also created the polarizing sculpture The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer (1880).

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In 1886, he exhibited a series of 10 paintings depicting nude women in various stages of bathing. The paintings were controversial, with some reacting with disgust and others praising his honesty.

Later in his life, Degas' political views caused him to lose many friends in the avant-garde community which had given him recognition. Renoir said of Degas, "What a creature he was, that Degas! All his friends had to leave him; I was one of the last to go, but even I couldn't stay till the end." His sexualized and misogynistic portraits of women are still a point of concern for modern critics, but his meticulous execution makes him one of the great artists of his time.

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Saturday, 19 July 2014
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