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PHOTO/ Happy Birthday Degas!

July Wed 18, 2012

The Dance School (1879) by Degas  The Dance School (1879) by Degas

On July 19, 1834, Edgar Degas, the famous Impressionist painter, was born.

Degas began to paint early in life and attended the academy for official training. He was excellent at drawing, and at first he wanted to be a history painter. He soon became entranced with contemporary scenes, and instead became a modern painter. His change in interest was especially due to the influence of Edouard Manet.

He began to display his paintings in the Salons of the Impressionists, despite criticizing their work. He mocked the other painters for working outside and was proud of the fact that his works were planned and studied, and created in a studio. He also did not use the same bright flashes of color as the other Impressionists. Compared with the other Impressionists, his works are less focused on color and light and more on the line and the composition.

His compositions are usually off-center, in the modern style, but also inspired by the old masters. He is also known for painting scenes of isolation and unease, of people seemingly unable to connect, separated by the dark lines of furniture and their disconnected gazes.

Though he began painting historical scenes, he quickly switched to scenes of everyday life and, after 1870, he increasingly painted ballet dancers, the subject for which he is most famous today. In these paintings, Degas blurs the line between the show and reality, showing dancers getting ready backstage, or practicing, or in the spotlight, with other figures watching from backstage. He showed figures from unusual angles, in unusual positions, and under artificial light. Degas often captured the beauty and flurry of a moment, but also something real, and perhaps less attractive, behind the colorful tutus and whirling bodies.

Degas never married and, as the years passed, he became increasingly isolated, partly because of his worsening vision, until he stopped painting in 1912 and died in 1917. He is one of the most famous artists of the 19th century and his works, especially the dancers, are some of the most popular. See pictures of some of his most famous works starting on the next page.



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