Although his early work was well-received in the Parisian salons of the time, Degas soon turned against the rigid structure France's art scene and joined the Impressionists. This is when he became more experimental in his artwork, exploring a number of different subjects, and eventually using "virtually every medium known in his lifetime"(Brettell 7), including pencil, charcoal, oil paint, pastel and bronze (DeVonyar). Degas himself never liked the word impressionist, he preferred to be called a realist, however he is often considered one of the most important painters in the founding of impressionist art. As he grew older, Degas began to gradually lose his eyesight, fearing that he might become totally blind by the mid-1880s (DeVonyar). As his eyesight grew worse, his work become more and more expressive and less realistic, pushing him farther and farther away from fame during his lifetime. Like many artists though, he was recognized and held in high regard after his death and is still admired by so many today.
Degas. Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, c. 1881, wax and costume
Degas. Studies for Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, c. 1878-1880, pencil, charcoal, and pastel on green paper
Degas was absolutely fascinated by dancers. He spent a lot of time at the dance studio, watching class or observing rehearsals, sketching the whole time (Thomson). What makes his work unique is that he does not show dancers posing on stage, in full costume and makeup, but rather he shows them resting, stretching, adjusting, or sometimes just thinking in class or rehearsal. Placing his dancers in a relaxed setting, either in the studio or backstage rather than on the stage itself, makes his subjects more relatable and realistic than their magical stage personas of fairies, princesses, or nymphs. He presents the dancers as people rather than as characters.
Degas. The Dance Class, c. 1874, oil on canvas
Brettell, Richard R., and Suzanne Folds McCullagh. Degas in the Art Institute of Chicago. New York, New York: The Art Institute of Chicago and Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1984. Print.
DeVonyar, Jill, and Richard Kendall. Degas and the Dance. New York, New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. and the American Federation of Arts, 2002. Print.
Thomson, Richard. The Private Degas. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson Inc., 1987. Print.