Art History Lab

Capturing Life’s Essences: The Art of Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas Biography: The Life and Works of a Master Impressionist

Edgar Degas is considered one of the most prominent figures of the Impressionist movement, known for his works that represent the dynamism of modern life. Born in Paris in 1834, Degas grew up in a wealthy family that provided him with an excellent education.

In this article, we will delve into the life of Edgar Degas, his artistic journey, and his impact on the art world.

Early Life

Edgar Degas was born to a wealthy family and was the eldest of five children. His father was a banker, and his mother came from an aristocratic family.

Degas began his studies at an early age, attending the prestigious Lyce Louis-le-Grand in Paris. It was during this time that he began his artistic pursuits, painting with his friend Paul Valpinon and sketching in his notebooks.

Early Training

Despite the expectations of his family, Degas pursued a career in art. He studied at the Louvre Museum and worked as a copyist under the tutelage of academicians.

He then continued his studies at the University of Paris and the cole des Beaux-Arts. His teachers included Ingres, who influenced his classical art, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who encouraged him to pursue his own artistic style.

Mature Period

In 1872, Degas took a trip to New Orleans, where his family had business interests. There he made several paintings, including “A Cotton Office in New Orleans” and “The Bellielli Family.” These works reflected the themes that would characterize his mature period, depicting the complexities of everyday life through a new and unique lens.

During this period, Degas also explored the Parisian nightlife and the music halls. His studies of dancers, singers, and prostitutes led him to a new level of realism that became a hallmark of his work.

His subjects were often cropped, with unusual viewpoints, and showed a striking resemblance to Japanese prints. He was also a member of the National Guard during the Franco-Prussian War.

Late Period

In the latter part of his life, Degas suffered from eye problems, which forced him to stop painting outdoors and led him to isolation. He was known to have been anti-Semitic and was financially dependent on his brother.

Despite this, he continued to collect artwork and paint until his death in 1917.

The Art Style of Degas the Artist

Degas was known as an impressionist and realist. He saw himself as a realist who treated the subjects of his works objectively without romanticizing them.

He also had contempt for painting outdoors and preferred to work from memory.

Themes in Edgar Degas Paintings

His love for Gavarni and Daumier’s illustrations is evident in his paintings, which often depict women and the Parisian way of life. One of his favorite themes was racetracks, which were a common sight in Paris at the time.

His paintings often featured jockeys, horses, and the Parisian elite who frequented the tracks.


Edgar Degas was a master artist who devoted his life to capturing the essence of the modern age through his paintings. His works are celebrated for their realism, dynamism, and the way that they accurately portray the ordinary aspects of life.

Degas’s legacy lives on as a testament to the power of art to inspire and capture the world around us. Edgar Degas was renowned for his paintings, sculpture, and drawings, all of which reflected his focus on capturing the essence of modern life.

In this article, we will dive into his sculptures and notable paintings, exploring the details of his art and his impact on the art world. Edgar Degas’ Sculptures

Alongside his paintings and drawings, Degas also produced sculptures.

In particular, his wax sculpture of “The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years” stands out as one of his most memorable works. Created in 1881, it is a life-size figure of Marie van Goethem, a young ballet student who was one of Degas’ favorite models.

The sculpture portrays her in a realistic manner, with great attention to detail in her facial features, clothing, and even her ballet slippers.

Despite its realism, the sculpture was controversial when it was first exhibited in Paris in 1881.

Its lifelike appearance and depiction of a young dancer caused a stir among audiences who had never before seen such a work of art. Some considered it vulgar, while others praised its realism and innovative style.

Today, it is recognized as one of Degas’ most significant works, a testament to his ability to capture the essence of modern life.

Legacy and Reputation

Degas’ sculpture and paintings have a polarizing reputation. Although he enjoyed academic attention during his lifetime, his works were often controversial, and some critics found his depictions of women misogynistic.

However, his works have left a mark on many artists who were inspired by his emphasis on form and portraiture. Degas’ sculptures were a major influence on the works of Auguste Rodin, who viewed them as an example of the “truthful realism” that he aimed to achieve in his own works.

Similarly, his paintings had a profound impact on the development of French painting, specifically on the Impressionist movement. His dynamic brushstrokes and unconventional compositions paved the way for other artists to create works that captured the energy and essence of modern life.

Notable Edgar Degas Paintings

“The Bellelli Family” is a family portrait featuring his aunt, her husband, and their children. The work was unfinished until 1867, when Degas repainted it.

The composition features the family members sitting together in a room, with delicate details of their faces and clothing bringing them to life. “Monsieur and Madame douard Manet” is a portrait of another of Degas’s contemporaries.

Here, he captures the sophistication and intelligence of the couple. Madame Manet appears somewhat stern, while douard’s expression exudes confidence and intelligence.

“Foyer de la Danse” is a painting that portrays the dancers of the Paris Opera in the midst of practice. Here, Degas captures the energy and motion of the dancers, with the combination of flowing movement and light creating a sense of frenetic energy and excitement.

“A Cotton Office in New Orleans” depicts a scene of modern commerce in New Orleans. Through his use of color and detail, Degas captures the vitality of this bustling scene, bringing the dusty, cotton-covered world to life.

Finally, “La Toilette” is a pastel that showcases Degas’ exceptional ability to capture the beauty and vibrancy of the female form. Through delicate brushstrokes and careful attention to detail, Degas transforms this everyday activity into an ethereal, surreal experience.


In evaluating Edgar Degas’s long artistic career, his sculptures and paintings stand out as key works of art that continue to inspire today. From his depiction of the cotton industry and Parisian life to his attention to form and portraiture, Degas’ influence is felt far beyond his lifetime.

His sculptures and paintings continue to captivate audiences and inspire artists across the world, remaining a testament to his skill, insight, and innovative style. In summary, Edgar Degas was an innovative artist who captivated audiences with his attention to detail and unique style.

His sculptures, including the controversial “The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years,” demonstrated his ability to capture the essence of modern life. His paintings, such as “Foyer de la Danse” and “La Toilette,” showcased his exceptional artistic abilities.

Degas’ lasting legacy is seen in his influence on the Impressionist movement and artists such as Auguste Rodin. His works continue to inspire and captivate audiences worldwide, remaining a testament to his skill, insight, and innovative style.

His contributions to modern art are a lasting reminder of how art can capture the dynamism and complexities of everyday life.

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