10 Things You Didn’t Know About Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas, a French artist renowned for his contributions to Impressionism and his exceptional skill in capturing movement, is one of the most celebrated figures in the art world. While many art enthusiasts may be familiar with his famous ballet dancers and horse racing scenes, there are some fascinating facts about Degas that are lesser-known. In this article, we will delve into 10 things you didn’t know about Edgar Degas, shedding light on the man behind the masterpieces.

1. Degas’ Passion for Photography

Not only was Degas a masterful painter, but he was also an avid photographer. He deeply admired the art form and had a vast collection of photographs that he used as references for his artwork. Degas’ photographs offer a unique insight into his creative process, as he often experimented with composition, lighting, and perspective in his photographic studies.

Degas’ love for photography extended to his friendships with some of the most prominent photographers of his time, such as Nadar and Carjat. These relationships allowed him privileged access to the latest photographic techniques and equipment, further influencing his artistic vision.

2. The Mystery of Degas’ Eye Condition

Degas’ eyesight began to decline in his early forties, leading many to speculate about the cause of his eye condition. While the true nature of his ailment remains uncertain, researchers and art historians believe it might have been retinal disease or macular degeneration. Despite this setback, Degas continued to work and adapt his artistic style to his changing vision, resulting in some of his most unique and experimental pieces.

Studies of Degas’ later works have revealed an increasing use of vibrant colors and bold brushstrokes, suggesting that his vision loss played a significant role in the evolution of his style. It is a testament to Degas’ resilience and determination that he did not allow his eye condition to hinder his artistic pursuits.

3. Degas – The Sculptor

While Degas is primarily known for his paintings, he also had a talent for sculpture. In his later years, he dedicated a considerable amount of time to working in three dimensions, creating wax sculptures, primarily of dancers. Unlike his paintings, which aimed to capture a fleeting moment, Degas’ sculptures focused on representing movement in space.

These sculptures, which were discovered after the artist’s death, reveal his meticulous attention to detail and his deep understanding of anatomy. Degas’ sculptures offer an intriguing contrast to his two-dimensional works, showcasing his versatility as an artist.

4. The Private Nature of Degas

Despite his prominence in the art world, Degas was known to be a private and reserved individual. He seldom exhibited his work publicly, and his paintings and sculptures were mostly shown at independent exhibitions or in small, private galleries. This preference for privacy extended to his personal life as well, as he was known to steer clear of the limelight and social gatherings.

Degas’ reclusive nature and aversion to public recognition allowed him to focus on his artwork without distractions. While this might have kept him relatively unknown during his lifetime, it did not diminish his impact on the art world, as his works continue to captivate audiences around the globe.

5. Degas and the Opera

One of Degas’ lesser-known passions was the opera. He was a regular attendee at the opera in Paris, not only for the musical performances but also for the visual spectacle it offered. The ballet and opera scenes that he so famously depicted in his paintings often drew inspiration from his experiences at the Paris Opera House.

Degas’ fascination with the opera is evident in his attention to detail when portraying dancers and performers. He sought to capture not only their physical movements but also the emotions and drama conveyed on the stage. Through his paintings, Degas brought the world of the opera to life, forever preserving the magic and allure of this art form.

6. Degas’ Revolutionary Techniques

Edgar Degas was at the forefront of artistic innovation and was known to experiment with various techniques and mediums. He revolutionized the art world by incorporating unconventional materials into his paintings, such as pastels and gouache. By using these materials, Degas achieved a texture and luminosity that added depth to his artwork.

In addition to his choice of materials, Degas also explored unique compositional techniques. He often chose unconventional viewpoints, cropping his subjects and focusing on specific details to create a sense of immediacy and spontaneity. This approach, influenced by photography, allowed him to capture a fleeting moment in time and provide viewers with a fresh perspective.

7. Degas’ Influences from Japanese Prints

Like many of his contemporaries, Degas drew inspiration from Japanese prints, which were highly sought after in the 19th century. These prints, known as ukiyo-e, had a profound impact on Western artists, including Degas, Vincent van Gogh, and Mary Cassatt.

Degas’ fascination with Japanese art is evident in his use of bold, flattened forms and unusual asymmetrical compositions. He incorporated elements of Japanese aesthetics, such as the incorporation of negative space and the emphasis on everyday life, into his own work. This influence contributed to the unique and timeless quality of Degas’ art.

8. Degas’ Innovative Use of Perspective

One of Degas’ defining characteristics as an artist was his innovative use of perspective. He often employed unusual angles and viewpoints in his paintings, giving viewers a sense of being an active participant in the scene. His use of unconventional perspectives added a dynamic quality to his artwork, enhancing the feeling of movement and immediacy.

By challenging traditional notions of composition and perspective, Degas pushed boundaries and paved the way for future generations of artists to experiment and explore new possibilities. His innovative techniques continue to inspire and influence artists to this day.

9. Degas’ Military Service

Before embarking on his artistic career, Degas served in the French military. He joined the National Guard and fought in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Degas’ military service disrupted his artistic endeavors, but it also provided him with a unique perspective and subject matter.

During his time in the military, Degas created a series of sketches depicting the everyday life of soldiers and the effects of war. These sketches, although less known than his later works, offer a glimpse into a different aspect of Degas’ artistic talent and his ability to capture the human experience in various contexts.

10. Degas – The Art Collector

Throughout his life, Degas built an impressive collection of artwork by his contemporaries and masters of the past. His collection included works by artists such as Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and Édouard Manet. Degas deeply admired the art of others and often used these works as inspiration for his own creations.

Degas’ collection not only highlighted his appreciation for the art form but also his understanding of its historical significance. The artworks he amassed served as a visual library, providing him with a wealth of knowledge and inspiration that enriched his own artistic practice.

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