Edgar Degas

Impressionism was a movement born en plein air — an exploration of the vicissitudes of colour, light and the living moment by painting in situ. French painter, engraver and sculptor Edgar Degas would always resist the classification of ‘Impressionist’, preferring a label more in keeping with his strict academic training, such as ‘Realist’ or ‘Indépendant’. Although he was one of the Impressionists’ leading luminaries, Degas’ Impressionism was of the body. In the contortions of a woman ‘at toilette’ or in the ballet studio, ‘for making a drama out of the body itself, its strains and toils… he is the modern Michelangelo,’ as art critic Tom Lubbock once wrote.

Degas’ emphasis on the body owed much to his classical training. Born into a wealthy Parisian banking family, he studied in the studio of Louis Lamothe, a pupil of Ingres, and then at the École des Beaux-Arts, where early works such as Young Spartans Exercising (c.1860) were very much in the classical tradition of the Academy.

By 1862, he had turned away from Classical subject matter towards the contemporary world of the racecourse, café, circus and ballet. While other Impressionists were working to capture the intricacies of light, Degas was attempting to depict a different kind of animated moment — a casual, voyeuristic approach that utilised strange perspectives and a radical, photographic cropping of the image, beautifully exampled in paintings such as The Orchestra at the Opera (c.1870).

Between 1874 and 1886, Degas was a regular contributor to Impressionist group exhibitions, and from 1880 his paintings and drawings became more and more intensely focused on the female body. His obsession with the ballet grew over the 1870s and ’80s, and many of his greatest works depict either the workaday world of the dance studio, such as The Dance Class (1874), or a world ethereally illuminated by the footlights, such as The Ballet Scene from Meyerbeer’s Opera ‘Robert le Diable’ (1876).

By the 1880s, Degas’ eyesight was failing and he began to focus almost exclusively on ballerinas and bathing women. Increasingly he turned to sculpture and pastel, with works such as Little Dancer of Fourteen Years (c.1881), The Blue Dancers (c.1898) and After the Bath (1896). Over the course of his life, he produced some 1,500 works connected to the ballet. He became increasingly reclusive and was almost blind when he died in 1917, aged 83.

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Danseuse, grande arabesque, deuxième temps

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Petite danseuse de quatorze ans

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Danseuses à la barre

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Trois danseuses

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Danseuse attachant son chausson

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Danseuses jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune)

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Trois danseuses (Jupes jaunes, corsages bleus)

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

La Coiffure (La Toilette)

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Danseuses (Les Coulisses de l'Opéra)

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Danseuse rajustant son chausson

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Quatre danseuses

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Après le bain, femme s'essuyant

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Danseuse à la barre

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Danseuses dans une salle d'exercice (Trois Danseuses)

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Après le bain, femme s’essuyant la jambe (le peignoir rouge)

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Etude du nu pour la 'Petite danseuse de Quatorze ans'

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Trois danseuses

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Danseuse rose

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Cheval au galop sur le pied droit

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Trois danseuses

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Danseuse rajustant ses épaulettes

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Femme à sa toilette

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Femme sortant du bain

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Femme s'épongeant le dos

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Femme s'essuyant

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Deux danseuses sur la scène

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Femme en peignoir bleu le torse dé couvert

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Cheval se cabrant

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Aprè s le bain

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Scène de ballet

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Deux femmes appuyées à une barrière (Conversation)

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Femme s'essuyant les pieds

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Danseuse sur une pointe

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Chanteuse de café concert

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Danseuse au repos

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Cheval au galop sur le pied droit

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Cheval au galop sur le pied droit

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Femme debout et vue de face, agrafant son corset

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Position de quatrième devant sur la jambe gauche

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Petites filles spartiates provoquant des garçons (Jeunes spartiates s'exerçant à la lutte)

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Femme assise dans un jardin

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Cheval se cabrant

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Grande arabesque, troisième temps

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Femme assise s'essuyant le côté gauche

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Grande arabesque, troisième temps