Degas, (Hilaire-Germain-) Edgar (b. July 19, 1834, Paris, Fr.--d. Sept. 27, 1917,
French artist, acknowledged as the master of drawing the human figure in motion. Degas worked in many mediums, preferring pastel to all others. He is perhaps best known for his paintings, drawings, and bronzes of ballerinas and of race horses.
The art of Degas reflects a concern for the psychology of movement and expression and the harmony of line and continuity of contour. These characteristics set Degas apart from the other impressionist painters, although he took part in all but one of the 8 impressionist exhibitions between 1874 and 1886. Degas was the son of a wealthy banker, and his aristocratic family background instilled into his early art a haughty yet sensitive quality of detachment. As he grew up, his idol was the painter Jean Auguste Ingres, whose example pointed him in the direction of a classical draftsmanship, stressing balance and clarity of outline. After beginning his artistic studies with Louis Lamothes, a pupil of Ingres, he started classes at the Ecole des Beaux Arts but left in 1854 and went to
In the early 1870s the female ballet dancer became his favorite theme. He sketched from a live model in his studio and combined poses into groupings that depicted rehearsal and performance scenes in which dancers on stage, entering the stage, and resting or waiting to perform are shown simultaneously and in counterpoint, often from an oblique angle of vision. On a visit in 1872 to
After 1880, Pastel became Degas's preferred medium. He used sharper colors and gave greater attention to surface patterning, depicting milliners, laundresses, and groups of dancers against backgrounds now only sketchily indicated. For the poses, he depended more and more on memory or earlier drawings. Although he became guarded and withdrawn late in life, Degas retained strong friendships with literary people. In 1881 he exhibited a sculpture, Little Dancer (a bronze casting of which is in the