“I know nothing of inspiration, spontaneity, temper; what I do is a result of a long reflection and a study of the great masters.”
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), a world renown Parisian artist, spent his entire life in museums studying the art of others. His father, Auguste de Gas, a banker, wanted his son to become a lawyer but ultimately supported him in his art endeavors. Edgar’s mother died when he was just 13.
Degas spent many hours at the Louvre Museum with his father and siblings. Art was in their blood. As an adult, he attended art schools and began to copy the Italian Renaissance paintings of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian. He traveled to museums in Italy studying form, composition, color and strokes by repeatedly copying the masters. Through discipline and years of practice and experimentation, Degas developed his own technique and style.
Known as the painter of ballerinas, some art historians believe Degas loved painting the ballet dancers because he empathized with their discipline and the years of dedication it took for them to achieve a masterful level of dance artistry. As he painted behind the scenes in ballet theaters, he was privy to the not so glamorous side of the dance industry where muscle pain, boredom, and foibles were kept out of the view of the audience… a much different perspective than the staged performance on the other side of the curtain.
Like many artists before him, as well as his contemporaries, Degas wanted to capture “vibrancy of movement” with vertical and horizontal strokes which create calm in the viewer. Light, gold and black were important to his art, as was the ability to capture the everyday life of horse jockeys, ballerinas, and business people in the cotton market office, etc. as if a voyeuristic bystander. This Parisian wanted his patrons to feel like they were taking an oblique look in on someone taking a bath, brushing their hair or scratching their back during a dance rehearsal.
Always reinventing his art, Degas boiled down his pastel sticks to use as paint. Later, he used extra chalk to add touches of white or blue to add a special glow to a white tutu or the corner of a room. Regardless of the medium, sculpture, Japanese printing, monotypes or photography, he created his own techniques to improve the final results.
Not impervious to human flaws, this Impressionist displayed a propensity towards anti-Semitic views, misogynistic comments and acidic wit where he demeaned himself as well as those around him. He once wanted to marry but, after serious contemplation, pondered that he and his future wife would be imbecilic “noodles” unfit to raise children in such a household.
Despite his shortcomings, there is no argument that Degas was an artistic genius. His masterpieces rank among the most pleasing in the world. Find out more here: https://www.edgar-degas.org/