Degas, Edgar

Edgar Degas was a painter, engraver, sculptor and photographer, a major exponent of French Impressionism. He is particularly known for his representations inspired by opera and ballet. Read the biography

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Born in Paris in 1834, Edgar Degas came from a bourgeois family. He studied at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand before going on to study law. He finally devoted himself to painting in 1855 and entered the Beaux-Arts Academy. In 1856, he left Paris for a trip to Italy, returning three years later to set up a studio on rue Laval, near boulevard de Clichy. His first interest was in historical painting, and he painted many biblical and mythological scenes. In the mid-1860s, he moved away from these subjects to focus on scenes of Parisian life. In 1869, he took up pastel painting, a technique that would remain dear to him throughout his life. In 1871, he began to visit the Paris Opera regularly, inspired by the dancers, who became a recurring motif in his work. He took part in the Impressionist exhibitions, but met with mixed success with the critics. In the 1890s, Degas worked to establish his own art collection, purchasing works by El Greco and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Édouard ManetLucien Pissarro, Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin. He increasingly withdrew from public life, but in 1894 took a stand against the Dreyfus affair: this position further isolated him, as it went against the opinion of many intellectuals of his time. This reclusive life was difficult for him, particularly as he gradually lost his sight, which prevented him from creating properly. However, his international reputation grew with time, and some of his works were shown at exhibitions in France and the United States in 1912. He eventually gave up all artistic work after being forced to move from his studio on rue Laval, and died in 1917.