Interpretive Resource

Artist Biography: Edgar Degas

A concise biography of Degas's life and work.

National Gallery of Art. Micro Gallery—National Gallery of Art. Online Content. Washington, D.C., 2004.

Edgar Degas
French, 1834-1917
Degas had a remarkable gift for psychologically penetrating images of contemporary life. Ballet dancers were among his favorite subjects, which also included laundresses, singers, racehorses, and women at their toilette. Degas's mastery of technique was superb, and he experimented with various media including pastel and monotype prints. Edgar Degas took a keen interest in the new art of photography and collected Japanese prints, both of which influenced his adoption of oblique and spatially ambiguous viewpoints.

Degas spent most of his life in Paris, with frequent trips to Italy. Abandoning the study of law in 1855 he trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He deeply admired the sure line of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, but soon developed his own approach: combining careful drawing and composition with loose brushwork. Though much has been made of the difference between Degas's approach and that of the impressionists—Degas preferred to work indoors—he exhibited regularly with the group. In his later years, his sight deteriorating, Degas worked in his studio close to the model. After 1880 he favored pastel crayons over oil because they allowed more direct and immediate results. Degas also experimented with sculpture, though the well-known bronzes were produced from his original wax models after his death.



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