Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas
19.07.1834 (Paris, France) - 26.09.1917 (Paris, France)

Nationality: French


Degas was born on July 19, 1834 in Paris. From 1855 to 1856, Degas studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Further, between 1854 and 1859 he travelled regularly to Italy where he discovered the Italian fifteenth-century Renaissance.

Throughout the nineteenth century, he was influenced by academic painter J. A. D. Ingres, by following the poussiniste belief in line as the basis of form in painting (rather than color as was believed by the rubenistes).

Degas’ first paintings were portraits and historical scenes – regarded highly by the art world at the time - marked by rigid composition. But as he absorbed the world around him, his surroundings and the everday life of people, Degas’s later work in the 1860s allied him with the Impressionists that would reign in the following decade.

Fascinated by the diversity and activity of city life, he painted the ever-changing aspects of Paris by day (its streets, theatres, cafés, and race tracks), thereby re-creating the atmosphere of a capitalist city from the eyes of a flaneur. Degas depicted peoples' characteristic behaviour and appearance, born of the particular conditions of their work and of everyday occurrences. Focusing on the “occupational” gesture, he poses subjects with a business that combines movement and beauty.

A nineteenth-century humanist, Degas focused great attention on his subjects (often members of the lower classes) and asserted the visual meaningfulness of their ordinary lives. Particularly memorable are his many ballet scenes, which conveyed the festive, magnetic atmosphere of the theatre. The artist, as an objective and subtle observer, revealed beauty while simultaneously capturing the exhausting, monotonous labour hidden behind the elegant spectacle.

A displaced composition (asymmetric and conveying the fragmentary quality of a motion-picture frame), precise and supple lines, unconventional foreshortenings, and active interplay of figure and space give Degas’ works a combination of spontaneity and precise calculation.

His works from the 1870s show a subtle restraint of colour that augmented the effects created by strong artificial light. The works of the 1880s and 1890s depicting ballet dancers and nudes at their toilette, executed primarily in pastel, take on a tense quality, which can be read as an expression of the artist's voyeurism.

From the late 1880s to the beginning of the 20th century Degas cast a great deal of work in sculpture. In his figures of dancers, bathers, and horses Degas strove to achieve an organic expressiveness in conveying fleeting motion and the sharpness and unexpectedness of a pose, while preserving the figure’s plastic wholeness and clear-cut quality.

Currently Leslie Smith Gallery has no works in the collection by this artist.


M. Kálmán Meller, 'Degas's "Place de la Concorde: Vicomte Lepic and his daughters"', Burlington Magazine 145 (2003), p. 273-281; J. De Vonyar and R. Kendall, 'The Class of 1881: Degas, Drawing, and the ''Little Dancer Aged Fourteen''', Master Drawings 41 (2003), p. 151-162; L. Marques, 'Degas sculpteur et la Florence du Quattrocento', in: Paragone, Anno LV, no. 58 (657), Nov. 2004, p. 71-86; J. Meyers, 'Degas and Manet. A Study in Friendship', in: Apollo, Vol. CLXI, no. 516, Feb. 2005, p. 56-63; R. Thomson, 'Degas et Henner: comparaisons et contrastes', in La Revue du Musée d'Orsay, nr. 24 (2007), p. 6-19; J. Reynaerts, S. Versluis-Van Dongen, 'A portrait of the artist as a young man. Edgar Degas inspired by Rembrandt', The Rijksmuseum Bulletin 59 (2011), p. 102-132; J. Reynaerts, 'Toeval of opzet? Rembrandt en Degas', Kunstschrift 55 (2011), nr. 4, p. 34-37; T. Raissieur, 'Degas and Hiroshige', Print Quarterly 28 (2011), Sep. no. 4, p. 429-431.


Combattimento per un'Immagine. Fotografi e Pittori, Torini 1973;
Degas and the Ballet; Picturing Movemement, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2007;
Degas’s Dancers at the Barre: Point and Counterpoint, London, Phillips Collection, Oct. 2011– Jan. 2012 


The work of Edgar Degas is represented in the collections of diverse international museums, including the Louvre in Paris, Hermitage in St. Petersburg, National Gallery in London, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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