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Artists Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas Photo

Edgar Degas

French Painter, Sculptor, and Printmaker

Movements and Styles: Realism, Impressionism

Born: July 19, 1834 - Paris, France

Died: September 27, 1917 - Paris, France

Edgar Degas Timeline


"Women can never forgive me; they hate me, they feel I am disarming them. I show them without their coquetry."
Edgar Degas
"I would have been in mortal misery all my life for fear my wife might say, 'That's a pretty little thing,' after I had finished a picture."
Edgar Degas
"It is all very well to copy what one sees, but it is far better to draw what one now only sees in one's memory. That is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory."
Edgar Degas
"One must do the same subject over again ten times, a hundred times. In art nothing must resemble an accident, not even movement."
Edgar Degas
"No art is less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters."
Edgar Degas
"An artist must approach his work in the spirit of the criminal about to commit a crime."
Edgar Degas

"A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people."

Edgar Degas Signature


Always remembered as an Impressionist, Edgar Degas was a member of the seminal group of Paris artists who began to exhibit together in the 1870s. He shared many of their novel techniques, was intrigued by the challenge of capturing effects of light and attracted to scenes of urban leisure. But Degas's academic training, and his own personal predilection toward Realism, set him apart from his peers, and he rejected the label 'Impressionist' preferring to describe himself as an 'Independent.' His inherited wealth gave him the comfort to find his own way, and later it also enabled him to withdraw from the Paris art world and sell pictures at his discretion. He was intrigued by the human figure, and in his many images of women - dancers, singers, and laundresses - he strove to capture the body in unusual positions. While critics of the Impressionists focused their attacks on their formal innovations, it was Degas's lower-class subjects that brought him the most disapproval.

Key Ideas

Degas's enduring interest in the human figure was shaped by his academic training, but he approached it in innovative ways. He captured strange postures from unusual angles under artificial light. He rejected the academic ideal of the mythical or historical subject, and instead sought his figures in modern situations, such as at the ballet.
Degas's academic training encouraged a strong classical tendency in his art, which conflicted with the approach of the Impressionists. While he valued line as a means to describe contours and to lend solid compositional structure to a picture, they favored color, and more concentration on surface texture. As well, he preferred to work from sketches and memory in the traditional academic manner, while they were more interested in painting outdoors (en plein air).
Like many of the Impressionists, Degas was significantly influenced by Japanese prints, which suggested novel approaches to composition. The prints had bold linear designs and a sense of flatness that was very different from the traditional Western picture with its perspective view of the world.
There is a very interesting and puzzling dichotomy in the way Degas approached his female subjects. There is much evidence that he was a misogynist, and also, much to prove that he was enamored with the female form that he attempted to represent it in its most absolute state through hundreds of painstaking studies. Whatever the reality may be, his studies and output furthered the exploration of the figure and the portrait in all of the visual arts.


Edgar Degas Photo


Edgar Degas was the eldest of five children of Célestine Musson de Gas, an American by birth, and Auguste de Gas, a banker. Edgar later changed his surname to the less aristocratic sounding 'Degas' in 1870. Born into a wealthy Franco-Italian family, he was encouraged from an early age to pursue the arts, though not as a long-term career. Following his graduation in 1853 with a baccalaureate in literature, the eighteen-year-old Degas registered at the Louvre as a copyist, which he claimed later in life is the foundation for any true artist.

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Edgar Degas Biography Continues

Important Art by Edgar Degas

The below artworks are the most important by Edgar Degas - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Bellelli Family (1859)

The Bellelli Family (1859)

Artwork description & Analysis: This portrait, with its subdued palette and its unconventional grouping of figures, such as the man having his back to the viewer, demonstrates the impact of Realism on the young Degas. He created it over the course of several trips to Italy, spanning 3-4 years. Each family member — his aunt, her husband and his two young cousins Giovanna and Giuliana — was sketched individually, and then organized into a family portrait, becoming more of a study of individual personalities than a study of them as a group. The father is suggested to be emotionally distant from his wife and daughters, while the mother stands dignified and decisive. Giovanna on the left is clearly the mother's favored daughter, while Giuliana, with one leg poised, is positioned just so to suggest a division in her allegiance.

Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Édouard Manet and Mme. Manet (1868-69)

Édouard Manet and Mme. Manet (1868-69)

Artwork description & Analysis: This unconventional portrait of Manet and his wife provides a wonderful example of Degas as the “distant spectator,” capturing a moment of solitude that the subjects might prefer go unnoticed. However, a riddle surrounds it. Degas painted it as a tribute to his friends, and it originally showed Mme. Manet playing the piano. However, some time after he had presented the portrait to them, he visited their house only to discover the painting had been mutilated and the right of the picture had been cut away. Degas was furious and removed the picture, though it was never repaired. Why Manet cut the picture down remains unknown.

Oil on canvas - Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Japan

Foyer de la Danse (1872)

Foyer de la Danse (1872)

Artwork description & Analysis: There is something unique and alluring in all of Degas's studies of ballerinas, of which there are many. In Foyer de la Danse he presents us with one of the unconventional perspectives that are so typical and distinctive in his work. Rather than evoke the light and atmosphere of the scene, as some of his Impressionist peers might have done, Degas has chosen to create a striking arrangement of space, one which echoes the experiences his contemporaries might have had throughout the new modern city. To achieve this, rather than compose the figures in a more orderly and centered fashion, he has dispersed them about the canvas, leaving a chair incongruously placed in the center foreground. Instead of viewing the room as a traditional box-like container for the figures, he paints it at an angle, suggesting multiple vantage points, almost as if this were an early blueprint for Cubism. The approach is characteristic of his modern, realist approach to composition.

Oil on canvas - Louvre, Paris

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Edgar Degas
Interactive chart with Edgar Degas's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Diego VelazquezDiego Velazquez
Eugène DelacroixEugène Delacroix
Jean-Auguste-Dominique IngresJean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Honoré DaumierHonoré Daumier
Gustave CourbetGustave Courbet

Personal Contacts

Louis LamotheLouis Lamothe
Édouard ManetÉdouard Manet
Eugéne BoudinEugéne Boudin
Henri Fantin-LatourHenri Fantin-Latour



Influences on Artist
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas
Years Worked: 1839 - 1877
Influenced by Artist


Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Paul GauguinPaul Gauguin
Vincent van GoghVincent van Gogh

Personal Contacts

Walter SickertWalter Sickert
Mary CassattMary Cassatt
Henri de Toulouse-LautrecHenri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Claude MonetClaude Monet
Pierre-Auguste RenoirPierre-Auguste Renoir



Useful Resources on Edgar Degas




The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Degas and the Dance Recomended resource

By Susan Goldman Rubin

Degas (Basic Art)

By Bernd Growe

Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec: London and Paris 1870-1910 Recomended resource

By Anna Gruetzner Robins, Richard Thomson

The Private Collection of Edgar Degas

By Ann Dumas

More Interesting Books about Edgar Degas
A Draftsman Who Turned More and More to Dynamism

By Ken Johnson
The New York Times
November 4, 2010

Who's the Voyeur Now, Picasso?

By Karen Rosenberg
The New York Times
August 26, 2010

Degas's Ballet Students Teach the Lessons of Their Art

By Alastair Macaulay
The New York Times
September 2, 2008

Degas, Director: An Easel Becomes a Stage

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
August 5, 2005

More Interesting Articles about Edgar Degas

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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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