Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was a French artist famous for his paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. He is especially identified with the subject of dance; more than half of his works depict dancers. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, although he rejected the term, preferring to be called a realist. He was a superb draftsman, and particularly masterly in depicting movement, as can be seen in his rendition of dancers, racecourse subjects and female nudes.
At the beginning of his career, Degas wanted to be a history painter, a calling for which he was well prepared by his rigorous academic training and close study of classic art. In his early thirties, he changed course, and by bringing the traditional methods of a history painter to bear on contemporary subject matter, he became a classical painter of modern life.
Degas began to paint early in life. Upon graduating, from the Lycée he registered as a copyist in The Louvre Museum, but his father expected him to go to law school. Degas duly enrolled at the Faculty of Law of the University of Paris in November 1853, but applied little effort to his studies. In 1855 he met Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, whom he revered. In April of that year, Degas was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts.
In 1859, Degas began work on several history paintings: He exhibited at the Salon for the first time in 1865. Although he exhibited annually in the Salon during the next five years, he submitted no more history paintings, and his Racecourse subjects signaled his growing commitment to contemporary subject matter.
Degas produced much of his greatest work during the decade beginning in 1874. Disenchanted by now with the Salon, he instead joined a group of young artists who were organizing an independent exhibiting society. The group soon became known as the Impressionists. Between 1874 and 1886 they mounted eight art shows, known as the Impressionist Exhibitions. Degas took a leading role in organizing the exhibitions, and showed his work in all of them, despite his persistent conflicts with others in the group.
Degas is often identified as an Impressionist. The Impressionists painted the realities of the world around them using bright, "dazzling" colors, concentrating primarily on the effects of light, and hoping to infuse their scenes with immediacy. They wanted to express their visual experience in that exact moment. Technically, Degas differs from the Impressionists in that he continually belittled their practice of painting en plein air.
As his subject matter changed, so, too, did Degas's technique. The dark palette that bore the influence of Dutch painting gave way to the use of vivid colors and bold brushstrokes. Paintings such as ''Place de la Concorde'' read as "snapshots," freezing moments of time portray them accurately. The lack of color in the 1874 Ballet Rehearsal on Stage and the 1876 The Ballet Instructor can be said to link with his interest in the new technique of photography. The changes to his palette, brushwork, and sense of composition all evidence the influence that both the Impressionist movement and modern photography
By the later 1870s Degas had mastered not only the traditional medium of oil on canvas, but pastel as well. The dry medium, which he applied in complex layers and textures, enabled him more easily to reconcile his facility in line with a growing interest in expressive color.
In the mid-1870s he also returned to the medium of etching, which he had neglected for ten years. At first he was guided in this by his old friend Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic, himself an innovator in its use, and began experimenting with lithography and Monotype. He produced some 300 Monotypes over two periods, from the mid-1870s to the mid-1880s and again in the early 1890s.
For all the stylistic evolution, certain features of Degas's work remained the same throughout his life. He always painted indoors, preferring to work in his studio, either from memory, photographs, or live models. The figure remained his primary subject;
Degas created a substantial number of other sculptures during a span of four decades, but they remained unseen by the public until a posthumous exhibition in 1918. Although he is known to have been working in pastel as late as the end of 1907, and is believed to have continued making sculptures as late as 1910, he apparently ceased working in 1912, when the impending demolition of his longtime residence forced him to move. He never married and spent the last years of his life, nearly blind, restlessly wandering the streets of Paris before dying in September 1917.