Degas, Edgar

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

The French painter Edgar Degas was born on July 19, 1834, in Paris. His father was a wealthy banker who was raised in Italy. His mother, descended from French nobility, was born in New Orleans. Degas grew up in elegant Paris society. He spent many hours in museums, theaters, and concert halls. After studying painting briefly in Paris, Degas went to Italy to learn directly from the works of the old masters. While there, he painted masterful portraits of his Italian relatives. He returned to Paris in 1859.

In 1865, Degas met a group of young artists later known as the impressionists. He helped organize their exhibits, and from 1874 to 1886, he was a leading exhibitor. At the Paris cafés where the impressionists met, he was known for his aloof manner and biting wit.

Degas took his subjects from everyday life, choosing poses that showed the human body in action--women ironing, ballet dancers practicing or rubbing their tired ankles, women bathing or combing their hair. In these pictures he seemed to catch a passing moment. Whether he worked in oil paints, charcoal, or pastels, Degas was always a master of line.

The last years of Degas' life were bitter and lonely. He lived alone and saw few people. For a long time, Degas had suffered from failing eyesight, and work became more and more difficult. He turned to sculpture because he could shape it without seeing it. He did many statues of horses and dancers in motion. Finally he was unable to work at all. He died on September 27, 1917, at the age of 83.

Reviewed by Frank Getlein
Author, The French Impressionists

 

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