Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas (Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas) (ēlĕr´ zhĕrmăN´ ĕdgär´ dəgä´), 1834–1917, French painter and sculptor, b. Paris; son of a banker. Although prepared for the law, he abandoned it for painting, studying at the École des Beaux-Arts with L. Lamothe, a student of Ingres, and in Italy, copying 15th- and 16th-century masters. He was precociously gifted as a draftsman and a brilliantly subtle and penetrating portraitist (e.g., Bellelli Family, 1859; Louvre). He exhibited for six years in the Salon (1865–70), but later ceased showing there and exhibited with the impressionists, whose works he admired although his approach often differed from theirs. An unflagging perfectionist, Degas strove to unite the discipline of classical art with the immediacy of impressionism. Trained in the linear tradition of Ingres, Degas shared with the impressionists their directness of expression and the interest in and portrayal of contemporary life. His favorite subjects were ballet dancers, women at their toilette, café life, and race-track scenes. He made notes and sketches from living models in motion to preserve informality of action and position. From these he organized his finished work in the studio, not directly from nature as his contemporaries did. Moreover, he created many daring compositional innovations. Influenced by Japanese prints and especially by photography, Degas diverged from the traditional ideas of balanced arrangements. He introduced what appeared to be accidental cutoff views, off-center subjects, and unusual angles, all quite carefully planned. Sometimes he effected a remarkable balance by giving special weight to the focus of interest, as in Woman with Chrysanthemums (1865; Metropolitan Mus.) and Foyer of the Dance (1872; Louvre). Gradually, Degas turned away from the medium of oil painting, perhaps because of his failing eyesight. He produced more freely executed, glowing pastels and charcoal drawings. His works in sculpture include many notable studies of dancers and horses. A number of his paintings and sculptures may be seen in the Metropolitan Museum. Many of his most celebrated works, including Absinthe, The Rehearsal, and Two Laundresses (1882) are in the Louvre. Ranked among the greatest of French artists, Degas profoundly influenced such later artists as Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso.

See his letters ed. by M. Guérin (tr. 1947); catalogs of his works by J. Rewald (sculpture, 1944), L. Browse (dancers, 1949), D. Cooper (pastels, 1954), J. S. Boggs (portraits, 1962, and drawings, 1966), and E. P. Janis (monotypes, 1968); studies by A. Vollard (tr. 1927), D. C. Rich (1951), D. Halévy (tr. 1964, repr. 1971), and C. Armstrong (1991). See also J. Adhémor and F. Cochin, Degas. The Complete Etchings, Lithographs, and Monotypes (1975); J. DeVonyar and R. Kendall, Degas and the Dance (2002).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Edgar Degas: Selected full-text books and articles

Degas: An Intimate Portrait
Ambroise Vollard; Randolph T. Weaver.
Crown Publishers, 1937
Degas
Francois Fosca; James Emmons.
Albert Skira, 1954
The Impressionists
Wilhelm Uhde; Ludwig Goldscheider.
The Phaidon Press, 1937
Librarian’s tip: Chap. III "Degas, Gauguin, Lautrec"
FREE! Modern Art: Being a Contribution to a New System of Aesthetics
Julius Meier-Graefe; Florence Simmonds; George W. Chrystal.
G. P. Putnam's Sons, vol.1, 1908
Librarian’s tip: "Degas and His Circle" begins on p. 277
The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society
Linda Nochlin.
Harper & Row, 1989
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Degas and the Dreyfus Affair: A Portrait of the Artist as an Anti-Semite"
Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany
Norma Broude; Mary D. Garrard.
Icon Editions, 1982
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 13 "Degas's 'Misogyny'"
An Outline of 19th Century European Painting: From David through Cézanne
Lorenz Eitner.
Westview Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "Edgar Degas, 1834-1917"
The History of Impressionism
John Rewald.
Museum of Modern Art, 1961 (Revised edition)
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Edgar Degas begins on p. 55
Painting and Sculpture in Europe, 1780 to 1880
Fritz Novotny.
Penguin Books, 1960
Librarian’s tip: "Edgar Degas (1834-1917)" begins on p. 237
Men and Memories: Recollections of William Rothenstein
William Rothenstein.
Coward-McCann Inc., 1931
Librarian’s tip: Chap. IX "Paris Nights. Degas"
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