Friday, 19 June 2015



Edgar Hilaire Germain Degas was born in Paris, 19 June 1834. He came from a wealthy banking family, that could afford to send him to the best schools, so in 1855 he enrolled at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He had access to and was influenced by all the great masters of the Louvre, particularly Ingres.

In 1865 Degas met Edouard Manet and was introduced to the Cafe Guerbois group, which evolved to become the Impressionists. Under the influence of his peers he started to paint studies of the ordinary people of Paris, particularly dancers, servants and artist's models.

In 1870 Degas exhibited with Monet, Pissarro and Sisley in London, England. A few years later he was part of the "Salon des Refusee, the first Impressionist Exhibition of 1874. He showed in all subsequent Impressionist exhibitions, except 1882.

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” 
Edgar Degas

As he grew older, his eye sight became poor, but he continued to paint, mainly in his chosen media of pastel. He had a long and productive life, passing away 27 September 1917.

For a chronological study of over 600 of his works, click here.

Degas had a very strong sense of composition. He loved to build on a diagonal structure and often the bulk of the subject matter drifted off to one corner of the painting, with large areas painted in rapid blocked form. There are several themes he revisited often over many years and they almost always included women except for the racing theme.

1. Women Ironing 
2. Women bathing
3. Women arranging their hair
4. Ballet dancers in rehearsal and performance
5. Horses preparing for a race

What fascinated him most was the flexibility of the human form and he often chose an unusual angle or an unusual pose, which is evident in his most famous series depicting a Prima Ballerina, seen from high above and to one side, obviously from a well positioned private box. 

Degas is also famous for his sculpture of an adolescent dancer, produced in many versions. He painted portraits of dignitaries and his friends, sometimes in oil, but mostly in the bright colours and rapid action of pastel. Possibly because you cannot mix pastel like oil paint, he was continually experimenting with daring colour combinations. He also tended to outline with deftly drawn dark edges, which give a hint of illustration and journalism to his style.