Edgar Degas

Born 1834. Died 1917.
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Edgar Degas Biography

Born to a well-to-do family in 1834, Edgar Degas briefly attended law school in an attempt to appease his father. However after meeting artist Jean-Auguste Ingres, whom he much admired, Degas quickly enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts, After completing his studies in 1856, Degas spent three years in Italy copying the Renaissance masters, whose works would influence him throughout his career.

It was not until 1864 that Degas transitioned to the subject matter for which he is best known: ballet dancers in class and on stage, café life, laundresses, horse races and other scenes of modern life. While Degas was influenced by his artistic heroes Delacroix, Ingres and Daumier he also looked to new sources such as Japanese prints and the recently discovered medium of photography. Though an active sculptor, Degas exhibited only one three-dimensional work during his lifetime – La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans in 1881 in the sixth Impressionist exhibition. A startlingly life-like wax figure with real hair and cloth tutu, it provoked passionate reactions from critics, some praising its realism while others denounced its ugliness.
Degas continued to exhibit with the Impressionists, and in his experiments with color, his off-center framing, and his interest in scenes of urban leisure, Degas was closely aligned with the artistic movement; however, the artist often bucked at the label. Trained as a history painter, he was more inclined towards Realism than his peers, and while other Impressionists drew sharp criticism for their innovative formal methods, Degas’s strongest disapproval stemmed from his depictions of “low” subjects: ballet dancers, laundresses, café habitués.

In the last years of his life Degas grew increasingly isolated, a condition exacerbated by deteriorating eyesight; at the time of his death in 1917, Degas was nearly blind.

Degas’ works can be found in the collections of numerous institutions, including the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the Musée d’Orsay, Paris; and the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California among many others. According to Sotheby’s Mei Moses, the average compound annual return for Edgar Degas resold at auction between 2003 and 2017 was 4.6% with 83.5% of 170 such works increasing in value.

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