Monday, March 3, 2014

Edgar Degas

by Hayley Young

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, better known as Edgar Degas, was a French artist born in 1834. Throughout his career, he ventured into various forms of art, including drawing, printmaking, sculpture, and painting. Degas was at the forefront of the Impressionist movement, although he did not like this term and preferred to be called a realist.

Degas was born into a wealthy family and began painting at a very early age. However, his decision to become an artist was not completely embraced by his family. Degas lost his mother at the age of 13, and therefore was largely influenced by his father and grandfather, who expected him to become a lawyer. He enrolled at the University of Paris to study law, but put little effort into his coursework; he was so passionate about art that he had converted his bedroom into an artist's studio.

Degas's life changed when he met Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. Ingres famously gave him this advice:

"Draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from life and from memory, and you will become a good artist."

The same year that Degas met Ingres, he was accepted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. For practice, he copied and drew artwork from the Renaissance era, most notably from artists like Raphael, Titian, and Michelangelo. These study drawings led to the creation of what many consider to be his first masterpiece, The Bellelli Family, depicted below.

In addition to this painting, Degas started off by creating portraits of his family members.
Marguerite Degas 
Achille Degas in the Uniform of a Cadet

In the 1860's, Degas committed to his life as an artist, abandoning any academic endeavors he previously pursued. The artist Edouard Manet introduced him to Impressionism, which, in addition to his new commitment to Parisian life as inspiration, contributed to a change in Degas's artistic style and subject matter. Degas became captivated by ballet, which is reflected in much of his work. While Degas previously favored painting historical scenes, he now began to create art that was inspired by modern life and figures. A large portion of Degas's paintings are of beautiful ballet students with large tutus, often depicted in their dance studios. 
The Dance Class (1873-76)

Dancers Climbing the Stairs (1886-90)

As you can see by the dates on these paintings, Degas used ballerinas as his subject matter for many, many years. He painted soft edges and used soft pastel colors to create paintings that are, in my opinion, some of the most aesthetically pleasing I have ever seen. The reason I chose to write about Degas is because I saw his painting, Dancers Climbing the Stairs, a few years ago, and I haven't been able to forget it. I loved Degas's use of a dominating- but not too bold- orange background. This truly highlights the soft blue dresses that the dancers are wearing. After all, orange and blue are complementary colors. The essence of his painting style seems to fit the grace and movement of the ballerinas. If we look at his paintings, it almost seems like a snapshot, or a peek into a ballet studio in Paris; the positions of each ballerina seem so natural and real. 

Degas continued to create works of art into the early 1900's, but suffered from poor vision and eventually became blind. He never married or had children.


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