Friday, October 7, 2011

Edgar Degas

I am no dancer. And yet my earliest memory of my childhood is standing on a dark stage in a pink tutu craning my neck to find my father in the crowd. I was five and I don’t recall the classes or the ballet shoes, but the memory of that first performance, as my peers determinedly pirouetted beside me, still evokes my sole intention to run off that stage as quickly as possible into my fathers arms. Unfortunately, that was the end of my dancing career. The following years, I ran from soccer games to tennis practices, while around me my friends attended jazz, ballet, and modern dance classes. As an athlete, I considered dance to be frilly and girly, and I had no patience for it.
In recent years however, as I have matured, I have come to more deeply understand my personality, recognizing my dominant introspective and emotional traits. Craving means of self-expression, I have engaged myself in the arts through music, poetry, and art. With the perspective that my immersion in the arts has given me, I can now so much more appreciate the beauty of dance.
In my surroundings I find myself constantly searching to please my artistic eye, and no subject achieves this for me as the human figure, so beautiful in its natural form. This is what has always drawn me to Edgar Degas.
“Edgar Degas is above all a painter of the human figure” (Dumas 9). I am entranced by the artist’s work with pencil, charcoal, and pastel. My preferred medium is charcoal, for the deep lines and variance of value so captures the depth of shadow in a subject. The curve of a waist, the bend of a wrist, the elegance of a gesture—the impact of all are heightened by the black and white. Degas’ raw strokes, visible in the specific pieces I have chosen, lend realism, truth, and, above all, movement to his work.
Edgar Degas was born in Paris on July 19, 1834, the oldest of five children. The son of a banker, he began his schooling at Lycee Louis-le-Grand in Paris and studied law until he convinced his father at the age of twenty to let him pursue art more seriously. As he grew up, he was influenced artistically by many trips to the Louvre, where he learned by example from the great artists. As a young man, Degas also studied under Louis Lamothe, who was a student of Ingres. When Degas eventually met Ingres, the artist advised him to “draw lines young man, and still more lines , both from life and from memory,” a sentiment which Degas would still recall years later (Fosca 13).
In 1856 Degas took a serious step in his art career and travelled to Italy, studying the work of artists, such as Botticelli and Ghirlandaio, whose work particularly emphasized the importance of the line. He did not frown upon the great Renaissance artists, such as Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael, but considered their work “lacking in those fervid accents of truth and reality” (Fosca 15). Degas found greater beauty in the simple and common scene.
Around 1860, historical subjects were necessary for an artist’s recognition. Many critics of the time propose that Degas’ historical works are incoherent, displaying isolation between the figures. Degas was not talented in looking past the line—instilling a deeper meaning into his painting or translating ideas and feelings into art. He soon recognized that this was not his area of expertise however and began working more from his own perspective. In fact, he relied so much on his vision that it seemed ironic when his eyes would fail him for the last forty years of his life.
The Franco-Prussian war, beginning in July 1870 was a catalyst for change in Degas’ style and approach to art, forcing the artist to stop work and evaluate himself. He emerged from this period of inactivity refreshed, with a new vigor for exploring new methods, techniques and media. “As he got to the core of his art, his concern was no longer with finishing a picture but with arriving at a final repertory of human movement” (Fosca 12).
Tragically, by the time Degas was forty his eyesight began to seriously decline, eventually resulting in his complete abandonment of painting and the unhappy end of his life.

Works Cited

Dumas, Anne. Richard Kendall. Flemming Friborg. Line Clausen Pedersen. Edgar Degas: The Last Landscape. Merrell: London, New York. 2006.

Cabanne, Pierre. Edgar Degas. Transl. Michel Lee Landa. Editions Pierre Tisne: Paris. 1958.

Fosca, François. Degas. Geneva: Skira, 1959.

McMullen, Roy. Degas: His Life, Times, and Work. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston. 1984.

Werner, Alfred (1969) Degas Pastels. New York: Watson-Guptill. 1969.

Gabriela Gomez

Dancers resting. pastel

Woman Wiping Herself. Pastel and Charcoal.

Miss Lala at the Fernando Circus. Drawing

Miss Lala at the Fernando Circus. Oil on canvas

Dancer Leaning Forward. Black pencil and chalk on gray paper.

Dancers at the Foyer: Before the Dance. Pastel
Dancer Stretching Her Back. Black pencil on gray paper.

These select images of Degas' work that I have chosen display his preoccupation with movement. “[Movement] already obsessed this young man of twenty and was to obsess him all him life as a painter of horses and dancers” (Cabanne). After over a month of exploring line, shading and value, and perspective in Drawing100 this assortment of study drawings and finished explorations of the human figure spoke to me. Degas masterfully employs the use of shading and linear precision to add movement to his work, giving each figure individual character and life.


  1. If you want to make your home really look really beautiful , paintings are the best way to do it believe home looks very well decorated . If you are looking to find Oil Paintings Reproductions at very economical price or cheap rates, you must visit

  2. Where did you find the image of Dancer Leaning Forward?