Degas Edgar

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Edgar Hilaire Germain Degas was born in Paris, France during the summer of 1834. The oldest of five children, Degas was closest to his mother. Unfortunately, she died during his adolescence and her death affected him immensely. Interested in art from an early age, Degas drew much support for his artistic ambitions from his father who sent him to Lycee Louis-le-Grand for formal training. After completing his studies, Edgar Degas converted one of the many rooms of his father’s house into a studio and began to study painting under artist Felix Joseph Barrias. Degas also spent some time studying at the Ecole de Beaux Arts but found the experience too rigid and too unprofitable.

For this reason, Edgar Degas chose to study on his own, keeping extensive sketchbooks and journals and spending a good deal of his time copying the masters. He even took a trip to Italy to study under the Italian painters of his day. After returning to Paris in the late 1850s, Degas opened his own studio and focused on producing art with historical themes and doing portraiture for hire. His perspective on the direction of his art changed in the early 1860s when he became friends with Manet and writer Edmund Duranty. Manet’s art focused on modern subjects and Duranty was a realist. Edgar Degas began spending time at the Café Guerbois, a popular haunt for the Impressionist painters of the day. Degas started visiting the racetrack and the theater and painting the subjects and scenes he encountered there.

In the 1870s, the devastating Franco-Prussian war erupted and waged not far from Edgar Degas’ native city. Degas joined the army and served in an artillery unit until the end of the war. While on the front lines, he contracted a severe cold that affected his eyes. The problems with his eyes would continue until his death. When the war ended, he moved to New Orleans to live with relatives, but missing the lights and the life of Paris, eventually moved back. Degas’ father died in 1879 leaving his son with numerous unpaid debts. Degas was forced to sell off large quantities of his artwork to meet the debts and make ends meet. Around this time, he began painting the subjects for which he would be best remembered: female nudes, acrobats, washwomen, and dancers.

Edgar Degas exhibited some of his work at the Last Impressionist Exhibit of 1886, but his eyesight began to deteriorate rapidly. He began working in sculpture and pastels, but after a time could only produce large works. By the 1900s, his eyesight failed him completely and, no longer able to produce art and therefore a livelihood, he was evicted and forced into the streets. There he lived blind and homeless until his death in 1917. At the time of his death, Edgar Degas had created over 2,000 oils and pastels and around 150 sculptures.