(Hilaire Germain) Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

After briefly studying law, Degas devoted himself to art. He trained in the classical tradition under the tutelage of Louis Lamothe, himself a pupil of Ingres. Degas continued this training at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. He copied Old Masters, both in the Musée du Louvre and whilst travelling in Italy (1856-9). In 1862, while copying Velazquez' Infanta Maria Margarita in the Musée du Louvre, he met Manet. Through him he went on to meet the Impressionists, with whom he was henceforth associated.

However, Degas displayed few of the characteristics that now define Impressionism: he rarely painted en plein air (out of doors), and he usually made many careful studies before committing himself to canvas. However, he shared with the Impressionists a distaste for the dry, backward-looking work of the Academy, and exhibited with them in six of their seven shows.

He concentrated on few themes; horses, bathers, and dancers, but the nuances of expression, gesture and movement kept him endlessly fascinated. He made technical advances in the fields of printmaking, photography and sculpture. The realism of his wax Little Fourteen-year-old Dancer, with its wig, ribbon and tutu, caused a scandal in 1881.

In his later years, perhaps influenced by his friendship with Gauguin, his works became looser and more intensely coloured, relishing unusual compositions and viewpoints. With his eyesight and health failing him, he produced no work after 1912.

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