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Edgar Degas

Art Essay / Artists  / Edgar Degas

Edgar (Hilaire-Germain) Degas (1834–1917)

French painter and sculptor, born in Paris. From a prosperous mercantile family, he studied with Louis Lamothe, a follower of Ingres and although at first he seemed likely to become an academic painter, he developed into one of the great innovators of his time after coming to know Manet and his circle.

In 1874 he took part in the first Impressionist Exhibition (he exhibited in seven of their eight exhibitions).

He had private means and unlike many of the Impressionist painters did not depend on selling his pictures. After the Franco-Prussian War he turned in his painting to such unposed subjects as ballet girls and models in their off-duty moments, working girls and cabaret artists, showing a detached objectiveness of great power.

He used a wide variety of media – oil, gouache, tempera, pastel – the last increasingly as his eyesight failed. Renoir thought him superior to Rodin as a sculptor. He was a misanthrope and anti-Semite.

Edgar Degas crossed bridge to modernism

Still, for all the complaints lodged against the original of the now-standard museum shop trinket, Degas, unlike his fellow painters, the French Impressionists, always enjoyed steady support. One such defender, Nina de Villard, said of "The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer," "The work that is misunderstood today will one day be in a museum looked upon with respect as the first formulation of a new art." De Villard displayed more foresight than her fellow critics. A cast of "The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer" - along with more than 300 oil paintings, watercolors, works on papers and prints - are currently enjoying the limelight as the inaugural exhibition of the Metropolitan Musem of Art's new Tisch Galleries. The exhibit, the first of Degas' work in 50 years,...

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