Art History Lab

The Enchanting World of Edgar Degas: Celebrating Movement and Everyday Life

Edgar Degas: The Life and Artistic Style of a Master

When one hears the name Edgar Degas, images of ballerinas in tutus or horse races may come to mind. This French painter and sculptor created beautiful artworks that celebrated everyday life, not just the aristocratic and the wealthy.

He was one of the founders of the Impressionist movement, although he refused to be labeled as such. In this article, we will explore the life and career of Edgar Degas, along with his unique artistic style.

Early Life and Training

Edgar Degas was born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas on July 19, 1834, in Paris, France. He was the eldest son of a banker and a Creole mother from New Orleans.

His mother’s heritage would have a lasting impression on his life and career. As a child, Degas showed an artistic inclination and was encouraged by his father to pursue his passion.

He received formal training at the cole des Beaux-Arts, where he copied the Old Masters’ paintings at the Louvre Museum.

Transition to Full-Time Artist

After completing his studies, Degas began his career as an artist. He was a copyist at the Louvre Museum, an excellent tactic for aspiring painters to learn directly from the Old Masters.

Eventually, Degas transitioned to creating his own art, gaining recognition for his paintings of ballet dancers and horse races. He had a prolific career, producing over 1500 paintings, 1200 drawings, prints, and sculptures.

Impressionist or Realist? Edgar Degas’s artistic style remains a popular topic among art enthusiasts.

Some consider his artwork to be Impressionist, while others view it as Realist. Those who argue for categorizing his art as Realism believe that the emphasis on realistic depictions of his subjects separate him from Impressionist artists.

Degas preferred to be called an “Independent Artist,” which acknowledged his unique voice in the art world.

Use of Color and Line

Edgar Degas’s use of color and line remained a defining feature of his artwork. His experimentation with intensity and light is evident in his paintings of ballet dancers, where he captures the sensual joys and beauty of their movements.

Degas also incorporated line into his works, creating more structure and definition than other Impressionist painters. His works showcase a fusion of color and line that sets him apart as an artist.


Edgar Degas’s legacy is one of innovation and individuality. His life and career showcased how art can transcend boundaries of class, race, and culture.

His unique approach to color and line made his artworks stand out from others during his lifetime and continued to inspire artists in the following centuries. As we examine his life and work, we can appreciate the lasting impact he had on the art world.

The Development of Edgar Degas’ Career: An In-Depth Exploration

Edgar Degas was an artist who lived a long and productive life, leaving behind a legacy of beautiful and innovative artworks. His career spanned several decades, during which he explored different artistic styles and techniques, refining his craft with each painting, drawing, and sculpture.

In this article, we will examine the development of his career, from his early period to his late period, and understand the factors that shaped his unique style.

Early Period

Edgar Degas’s early period was characterized by his study of the Italian greats during his trip to Naples in 1856. There, he was deeply influenced by the works of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian.

These artists informed his unique style, one that emphasized fluidity and movement and showcased his range of brushwork. Degas’s early paintings often depicted figures in motion, and he experimented with different compositions and techniques to capture the dynamic movement of his subjects.

Mature Period

Degas’s mature period was marked by his focus on Parisian scenes, particularly those that depicted middle-class leisure activities such as horse racing and the ballet. During this period, he became more interested in the common man’s experience, showcasing the narrative of Parisian life in his works through attention to detail and realism.

He used vivid colors, bold brushwork, and unique angles to depict every aspect of his subjects, including their clothing and surroundings.

Late Period

The late period of Degas’s career was characterized by his shift towards sculpture. By this time, his eyesight had deteriorated, making it difficult for him to paint, and he began to focus more on the three-dimensional qualities of his subjects.

He would often revisit his favorite theme, ballet dancers, and represent them in bronze and plaster, showcasing their fluidity of movement and balance. This period was particularly innovative for him as he explored the ways in which sculpture could uniquely capture movement.

The Significance of the Degas Ballerina

One of the most significant works of Edgar Degas is his portrayal of ballet dancers, commonly referred to as the Degas Ballerina. Degas was fascinated with dance and often depicted dancers in various scenes, from backstage to on-stage.

His paintings, drawings, and sculptures of ballet dancers reflected his interest in the beauty of movement.

Capturing Movement and Ballet Dancers

In his portrayal of ballet dancers, Degas showcased his fascination with movement and the intricacies of the human form. He used dynamic angles, foreshortening, and attention to every single detail of the dancers’ movements.

He captured the grace, elegance, and athleticism of ballet, translating it into his unique style. His portrayal of the ballet dancers has become iconic, representing the beauty of dance and the human form.

Rhythmic Relationship and Individual Presence

Another unique aspect of Degas’s artwork is his portrayal of the rhythmic relationship between the dancers. He represented them in groups and pairs, capturing the synchronized movements and the unison of the dancers.

At the same time, he also paid attention to the dancers’ individual presence. Each dancer was depicted with a unique face, body, and posture, showing their distinct personalities and characteristics.

The combination of the rhythmic relationship and individual presence created a powerful representation of dance and human connection.


Edgar Degas’s career was one of constant evolution and experimentation, characterized by his unique style and the themes he explored. His early period of study in Naples laid the foundation for his representation of movement and the human form, while his mature period focused on the narrative of Parisian life.

His late period saw him exploring sculpture to create a new dimension in his representation of movement. The Degas Ballerina remains one of his most significant works, representing his fascination with dance and the fluidity of movement.

Most Celebrated Edgar Degas Paintings and Notable Sculpture Pieces

Edgar Degas was a master artist of the Impressionist era, producing works of art that remain celebrated today. Degas’s artistic style and techniques emphasized fluidity, movement, and realism, creating artworks that were unique to his voice as an artist.

In this article, we will examine Degas’s most celebrated paintings and notable sculpture pieces.

Most Celebrated Edgar Degas Paintings

The Bellelli Family

The Bellelli Family is a portrait of Degas’s Italian-born cousins, depicting their individual personalities and the family dynamic. The painting is notable for its attention to detail, from the setting of the Corso in Florence to the fashionable clothing worn by the family.

Each family member is depicted with their unique personality, creating a nuanced and complex portrayal. The Bellelli Family is a testament to Degas’s talent as a portrait painter, showcasing his ability to capture the essence of his subjects.

The Ballet Class

The Ballet Class is an oil painting depicting a dance lesson from the perspective of an elevated viewpoint. The painting is notable for its composition and attention to the ballet master, who is often overlooked in traditional ballet scenes.

The painting showcases Degas’s interest in the ballet and his unique perspective on the art form.

The Ballet Class is a masterful representation of movement, capturing the grace and athleticism of the dancers.


L’Absinthe captures a man and woman sitting together, drinking absinthe in a Parisian caf. The painting was controversial at the time of its creation, sparking criticism for its portrayal of a woman drinking absinthe, considered a taboo drink.

The painting is notable for its composition, color scheme, and attention to the mood and atmosphere of the caf scene. L’Absinthe is a testament to Degas’s ability to capture the essence of his subjects, creating a striking and memorable painting.

Notable Degas Sculpture Pieces

The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years

The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years is Degas’s first sculpture, created in wax in 1880. The sculpture caused controversy when it was first exhibited, as it depicted a young girl from a poor background, wearing real clothing and moving away from traditional classical sculptures.

The sculpture is notable for its realism, showcasing Degas’s eye for detail and his unique blend of classical and modern techniques. The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years is a testament to Degas’s innovation, creating a new dimension in sculpture that continues to inspire artists and viewers today.

Posthumous Exhibition and Bronze Casting

After Degas’s death, many of his sculptures were found to be deteriorating. His sculptures were vulnerable to damage due to the materials used, such as wax and plaster.

However, his sculptures were salvaged and cast into bronze, which ensured their preservation for future generations. The posthumous exhibition of Degas’s sculptural work, including The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, brought his innovative work to a new audience, showcasing the breadth of his creativity and talent.


Edgar Degas’s most celebrated paintings and notable sculpture pieces highlight his contributions to art and innovation. The Bellelli Family,

The Ballet Class, and L’Absinthe showcase his ability to capture human nature, his fascination with the ballet, and his attention to detail and mood.

The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years and posthumous bronze casting are notable for their realism, innovation, and preservation of his sculptural legacy. These artworks and sculptures continue to inspire and captivate audiences, evidence of Degas’s enduring impact on the art world.

Important Exhibitions and the Legacy of Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas was not only a remarkable artist but also played a significant role in organizing exhibitions and shaping the art world of his time. His involvement in Impressionist exhibitions and the public reception of his work left a lasting legacy.

However, his legacy also encompasses controversies, criticisms, and personal struggles. In this article, we will explore important exhibitions in which Degas participated, as well as the legacy he left behind.

Involvement in Impressionist Exhibitions

As a founding member of the Impressionist movement, Degas played a crucial role in organizing and participating in Impressionist exhibitions. The Impressionists, a group of avant-garde artists, sought to break away from the traditional Salon system and establish their own independent exhibitions.

Degas actively participated in these exhibitions, showcasing his work alongside other notable artists such as Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro. However, conflicts within the group arose due to differences in artistic visions and personalities.

Degas, known for his strong-willed nature and independent spirit, often clashed with fellow Impressionists, leading to tension and disagreements. Despite these conflicts, Degas’s involvement in the Impressionist exhibitions showcased his commitment to pushing artistic boundaries and his desire to establish a new artistic movement.

Public Reception and Legacy

The public reception of Degas’s work during his lifetime was mixed. While some admired his innovative style and keen observation, others found his subject matter and techniques unconventional.

Degas’s focus on everyday subjects and his experimentation with composition and perspective challenged traditional artistic norms, leading to a range of reactions from the public.

Over time, Degas’s reputation rose and fell.

Initially, his work faced criticism and skepticism. However, as the Impressionist movement gained recognition and acceptance, Degas’s contributions were reevaluated, and his unique artistic vision and technical skill began to be appreciated.

Today, Degas is recognized as one of the most important artists of the 19th century, with his influence extending beyond the realm of Impressionism and impacting French art as a whole.

The Legacy of Edgar Degas

Criticisms and Controversies

Despite his artistic achievements, Degas’s legacy is not without its controversies. One criticism often levied against him is the portrayal of women in his artwork.

Some argue that his depictions perpetuated stereotypes and objectification, particularly in his portrayal of ballet dancers. Others have accused him of having anti-Semitic views, based on his private correspondence and interactions.

These criticisms, while important to consider, should be viewed within the context of the time in which Degas lived and the social and cultural factors that influenced his work.

Personal Life and Late Career

Degas’s personal life and late career were marked by isolation, depression, and physical struggles. As he grew older, he experienced a progressive decline in his eyesight, leading to a decrease in his artistic production.

This decline affected his emotional well-being, exacerbating his sense of isolation and frustration. Degas continued to work despite his deteriorating health, but his output diminished over time.

In his later years, financial difficulties compelled Degas to sell his artwork to the public. His previously private collection, which included many masterpieces, was made available for purchase, giving art lovers and collectors the opportunity to own a piece of Degas’s legacy.

These public sales after his death further cemented his reputation as a celebrated artist.


Edgar Degas’s involvement in Impressionist exhibitions, the public reception of his work, and his personal struggles have shaped his legacy in the art world. Although his art initially faced criticism and controversy, his contributions have received recognition and admiration over time.

Today, Degas is remembered not only for his innovative techniques and unique artistic vision but also for his role in pushing artistic boundaries. Despite criticisms and personal challenges, Degas’s legacy as a talented and influential artist endures, inspiring generations of artists and art enthusiasts alike.

In conclusion, the article has explored the life and artistic style of Edgar Degas, shedding light on his early years, transition to becoming a full-time artist, and his unique blend of Impressionism and Realism. We have delved into his most celebrated paintings, such as “The Bellelli Family,” “

The Ballet Class,” and “L’Absinthe,” which demonstrate his skill in capturing movement, human relationships, and controversial subjects.

Additionally, we have discussed Degas’s notable sculptures, including “The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years,” and his involvement in important exhibitions, as well as the legacy he left behind. Despite criticism and personal struggles, Degas’s impact on the art world cannot be denied.

His ability to depict the beauty of everyday life and his role in the Impressionist movement continue to inspire artists and shape the history of art. As we reflect on Degas’s life and work, we are reminded of the power of artistic expression and the importance of pushing boundaries, challenging norms, and leaving a lasting legacy.

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