Edgar Degas

Nationality: French

Birth Year: 1834

Death Year: 1917


Edgar Degas, a French artist well known for his painting, sculpture, prints, and drawings, was an influential member of the Impressionist group, though he preferred to be identified as a Realist or Independent.

Early Life

Degas was born in Paris on July 9, 1834. His father, Auguste, was a wealthy banker with an interest in music; his American mother, Celestine, was an amateur opera singer. When Edgar, the eldest of five siblings, was a child, the family spelled its name “de Gas”; as an adult he chose to switch to the less complicated Degas.

At age 11, Edgar Degas attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where his subjects were Latin, Greek, and ancient history. He also developed an early interest in art; by the age of 18, he had registered at the Louvre as a copyist and turned one of his rooms at home into a studio. In 1853, he enrolled to study law at the University of Paris, as expected by his father. A meeting with Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres in 1855 was a turning point in his life and the same year, he gained admission to the École des Beaux-Arts. After only a year at the school, Degas left to travel, paint, and study in Italy for the next three years. He made several sketches of the paintings and frescoes he saw in Italy and was deeply influenced by the work of the Italian Renaissance painters.

Return to France

Degas began working on the “Bellelli Family” towards the end of his studies in Italy and continued working on it from the time he returned to France in 1859 till 1867. He also started working on grand historical paintings with the intention of submitting his work to the Paris Salon. The Salon accepted his “Misfortunes of the City of Orléans” in 1865 and, after this, Degas moved away from painting academic subjects.

Degas met Édouard Manet in 1862 and the two artists developed a lifelong friendship. Both Degas and Manet disliked the traditional art establishment and believed that the artists needed to seek out more modern techniques and subject matters. By the late 1860s, Degas became part of a group of avant-garde artists in Paris, including Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Alfred Sisley, who were interested in finding ways for artists to engage with the modern world. Soon after, with the start of the Franco-Prussian War, Degas left France, returning only in 1873.

The Impressionist Years

Thoroughly disillusioned with the Salon by the time he returned to Paris, Degas and a group of artists worked towards organizing an independent show. The Impressionists, as they came to be known, held eight exhibitions, in seven of which Degas showed his work. In spite of being an important member of the group, Degas was uncomfortable with the Impressionist approach of painting outdoors and had little in common with some of the other group members. He also never used the Impressionist color fleck. The group finally broke up in 1886.

In spite of his conservatism with regard to the Impressionists, Degas had a modern approach in picking subjects. These included scenes of Parisian life and the city’s denizens, painted from radical perspectives. Degas was a regular visitor to the opera house and a subject he revisited throughout his career was ballerinas at work. He drew from Parisian high society as well as the lives of the poor and marginalized, including prostitutes, laborers and laundresses.

Later Years

By the 1880s, Degas began collecting works of other artists, including El Greco, Ingres, Delacroix, and some of his own contemporaries, including Pissarro, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. He also began experimenting with photography, using friends and fellow artists as models. Some of the photographs were used as references for his paintings.

Degas’s eyesight began to weaken in the 1880s and eventually became so weak that he could no longer create any work after 1912.

His work received much acclaim during his lifetime and he was considered one of the boldest and most innovative painters among his contemporaries. He died in Paris on September 27, 1917, at the age of 83.


Though he was a highly acclaimed artist, there are mixed opinions on Degas due to his anti-Semitic views and what some regard as misogynistic overtones in his portrayal of women.

Born:July 9, 1834


See his work at:

HONOLULU: Honolulu Museum of Art

LONDON: The National Gallery

NEW YORK: Metropolitan Museum of Art

PARIS: Musee d’Orsay

KITAKYUSHU: Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art

Died:September 27, 1917

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 Portrait of Mme. Natalia Wallkonska by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas

Portrait of Mme. Natalia Wallkonska

Matsart Gallery, Tel Aviv

July 28, 2015


 L'Attente de la Chanteuse, from Quinze Lithographies by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas

L'Attente de la Chanteuse, from Quinze Lithographi

Bonhams, London

July 14, 2015

$5,458  USD

 Danseuse Mettant Son Chausson by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas

Danseuse Mettant Son Chausson

Koller Auktionen, Zurich

June 26, 2015

$1,339  USD

 Dancer putting on her slipper by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas

Dancer putting on her slipper

Charlton Hall Galleries, Inc., Columbia

June 26, 2015

$400  USD

 Italian Woman (Femme Accoudee) by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas

Italian Woman (Femme Accoudee)

Neal Auction Company, New Orleans

June 26, 2015

$22,108  USD

 Portraits (Mme Ducros) by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas

Portraits (Mme Ducros)

Christie's, London

June 24, 2015


 Portrait d'homme d'apr?s un ma?tre flamand by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas

Portrait d'homme d'apr?s un ma?tre flamand

Christie's, London

June 24, 2015

$154,566  USD

 Danseuse rajustant l'?paulette de son corsage by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas

Danseuse rajustant l'?paulette de son corsage

Christie's, London

June 24, 2015

$56,884  USD

 Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas

Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans

Sotheby's, London

June 24, 2015

$24,838,867  USD

Artworks for sale

“Vogue like a Painting” Coming Up at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

By Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop | June 3, 2015

Botticelli, Vermeer, Van Eyck, Degas, Hogarth, and Rossetti are just some of the painters whose works have inspired fashion photography in the pages of Vogue magazine.Opening June 30 at the Museo...

Monet and More: Frankfurt’s Städel Museum Celebrates its Bicentennial

By Lisa Contag | March 13, 2015

To celebrate its bicentennial, Frankfurt’s Städel Museum is staging a series of exhibition highlights this year.This week, the comprehensive show “Monet and the Birth of Impressionism” kicked off...

“Inventing Impressionism” at Britain’s National Gallery

By Nicholas Forrest | January 5, 2015

The British National Gallery’s exhibition “Inventing Impressionism” is the UK’s first exhibition devoted to visionary French art dealer and gallerist Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) – the man who...

Masterpieces from the Burrell Collection at Bonhams, London

By Nicholas Forrest | January 2, 2015

Bonhams London is hosting an exhibition at its New Bond Street headquarters of more than 50 treasures from the collection of Scottish shipping magnate Sir William Burrell who donated his...

Masterpieces on Madison January 24-31

By Michelle Tay | December 25, 2014

Master Drawings New York will present a mix of pen and inks, charcoal drawings, oil on paper sketches and watercolours, created by iconic artists working from the 16th century onwards.“People who...

Bonhams' Impressionist and Modern Art Sale

By Liza Muhlfeld | November 7, 2014

At Bonhams New York on November 4, the sale of Impressionist and Modern art was led by Henry Moore’s 27-inch bronze Working Model for Reclining Figure: Bone Skirt, cast between 1977 and 1979,...

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