Degas

Degas

Degas

Degas

Excerpt

EDGAR-HILAIRE-GERMAIN DEGAS was born in Paris on July 19, 1834, in the Rue Saint-Georges. He came of a very well- to-do Parisian family, but one with many connections abroad. Degas' grandfather, Hilaire-René de Gas, faced with prison and beheading when the French Revolution broke out, chose to go into exile. He settled at Naples, where he married and founded a bank. Thus it was that Degas had a good many Italian relatives. The correct spelling of the family name was "de Gas," and until about 1873 the artist so spelt his name in signing his works.

Auguste de Gas, his father, left Naples and returned to Paris, where he started up a branch-office of the bank. Degas' mother, a Mademoiselle Musson, came from a French Creole family of New Orleans, in the United States.

Young Degas received a good classical schooling at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, and then studied law. He spent the bulk of his time, however, in the galleries of the Louvre, soon growing familiar with the art of the Old Masters. At twenty he prevailed upon his father, by no means taken with the idea, to let him study painting. Before entering the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he remained only a short while, he took lessons from Louis Lamothe, a second-rate painter who, in his youth, had been a pupil of Ingres. To Degas, who nourished a boundless, lifelong admiration for Ingres, all that mattered was the fact that Lamothe had been within the magic circle and could in some measure pass on the master's teachings. About this time he was privileged to meet Ingres himself, thanks to the good offices of a common friend, Monsieur Valpinçon. In later years he fondly recalled the piece of advice Ingres had given him: "Draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from the life and from memory." This pointer Degas may be said to have taken to heart and followed throughout his career.

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