Art e Dossier

Art History

Edgar Degas: biography

Son of the wealthy banker, De Gas (this is the correct spelling of the family name), Edgar spent nearly his entire life in Paris, with frequent trips to Italy where he traveled almost every year between 1854 and 1886. After receiving a classical education in the city’s main lycée he briefly studied law at the Sorbonne. Then, in 1854 he became a pupil of the painter Louis Lamothe, in turn a disciple of Ingres one of the great masters who had an enormous influence on Degas. In 1862 his meeting with Manet was decisive for the Impressionistic turn his painting was to take. From 1874 to 1886 he participated in all the Impressionists’ exhibitions except for the one held in 1882. He was, however to remain the “farthest” from the Impressionist school as he rejected one of its basic principles, “en plein air” painting, preferring to create his canvases in the studio on the basis of sketches and notes. His studies focused primarily on the effects of artificial light and in this sense his paintings of singers, musicians and dancers were fundamental. Japanese prints, that he collectedly avidly were also an essential element of his art. In 1898 because of severe problems with his eyesight he stopped painting almost entirely and dedicated himself to sculpture creating statutes of running horses, ballerinas in various poses and other subjects. His most important sculpture is certainly the A Dancer at the Age of Fourteen of 1890 in which he tackled the problem of multi-medium sculpture. One curious aspect of his work is the series of sketches, studies, monotypes, drawings and lithographs of prostitutes and brothels. When the artist died his brother René destroyed all of these except for the few that Degas had sold to the publisher Vollar to illustrate Guy de Maupassant’s La Maison Tellier and the Mimes des Courtisanes by Pierre Louys. Another interesting aspect of his career is his collecting: during his lifetime he acquired more than five hundred paintings and five thousand drawings and prints (although he never owned anything by Monet whom he called a “decorator.” When Degas died in 1917 he was almost totally blind.

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