Edgar Degas seems never to have agreed to the label of "Impressionist," preferring to call himself a "Realist." Despite this, he was one of the group’s founders, and often called “The Father of Impressionism.” As an impressionist, he sought to capture fleeting moments in the flow of modern life, yet he showed little interest in painting still life and outdoor scenes, favoring scenes in theaters and cafés illuminated by artificial light. Degas was a born psychologist, and loved to analyze people‘s personalities and their relationships with others.
Hilaire Germain Edgar de Gas was born into a wealthy banking family on July 19, 1834 and was the oldest of five surviving children. It wasn't until later on in life that he adopted his shortened name, Edgar Degas, thinking his given name was too pretentious. His childhood was privileged but mostly melancholy and joyless; A theme that echoed through out his younger years. When he was 13, his mother passed away, which contributed a lot to the abysmal tone in the Degas household. Degas was known by his friends and family as being heavy-handed and down-to-earth. He was also affectionately called “the little bear” because of his frequent grumbling and growling. His father recognized his son’s artistic gifts early, and encouraged his efforts at drawing by taking him frequently to Paris museums.
Degas was educated in the classics, including Latin, Greek, and ancient history, at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he discovered his love for the arts after he studied drawing there. After graduating form Loui-le-Grand, Degas originally went to school to become a lawyer to appease his father, but after only a year, he ended his studies and was determined to pursue his dreams of becoming an artist. His father was impressed by his determination, and eventually agreed to his goals. When Degas was 18, his father provided him with an empty room in there home as a studio.
In 1855, Degas entered the studio of Louis Lamonthe, where he studied art, drawing, the copying of engravings and plaster casts of antique works. He also copied famous works of the Old Masters in the Louvre. It was there that he met Manet, an impressionist who would soon come to introduce Degas to the changing world of art in Paris. In 1856, Degas left for Italy for three years to complete his artistic tuition independently. There, he was inspired by the architecture and the classic Italian masterpieces. He describes this part of his life as “the most extraordinary period of my life.”
Manet was a very big influence on Degas. He brought him to meet his colleagues Cezanne, Renoir, Sisley, Monet, and Pisarro, as well as writers Emile Zola and Edmund Duranty at the Café Guerbois in Paris where they met weekly and discussed art and the world around them. When Prussia moved in on France in 1870-1871 resulting in the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, Degas as well as his colleagues were forced to fight for their country. When they were out of the service, changes surrounded them. Gustave Courbet became the commissioner of arts. He was an impressionist, and revolutionized the way art was accepted in Paris. This broadened the impressionist movement and gave impressionist artists more exposure, as well as acceptance.
Evidence of Degas’s classical education can be seen in his relatively motionless, decorative-like painting, Young Spartans Exercising, done while he was still in his twenties. Despite the title, and the suggestion of classic Greek clothing on the figures in the background, there is little that actually gives indication that this painting takes place in ancient Greece. It has been noted though, that the young girls have the same physical forms and facial expressions as the dancers Degas painted so often throughout his career. After 1865, when the Salon accepted his history painting The Misfortunes of the City of Orléans, Degas did not paint Academic subjects again. He began focusing his attention on...
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