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Learn more about Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas, an Impressionist more interested in movement than in color, was born in Paris, the son of a banker who wished him to go into business.
Degas, therefore, did not begin to study art until he was twenty-one. He studied the work of Clouet and Poussin at the Louvre, and after a year, he went to Italy and studied the art of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance. His greatest early admiration was for Ingres and until he met Manet and the Impressionists, Degas painted quite classical historical works. Once Degas joined the Impressionists, Degas changed his subject matter, painting racetrack scenes sketched from life and finished in his studio, theatrical and ballet scenes, and many pictures of women. He worked in many different mediums and concentrated upon the portrayal of movement that hints toward the action immediately preceding and immediately following that of the moment captured by his rapid pencil or brush.
His skill as a draughtsman was extraordinary and his paintings have the feeling of immediacy that is usually associated with the camera.
Degas also discarded classical rules of composition and frequently used an oblique angle with light coming from below to create a new type of theatrically focused space. In his oils, he applied his color in translucent cross-hatching and for his pastels used a technique in which color was applied in many successive layers, each layer except the last fixed to give a powdery, soft effect that was particularly effective in his ballet scenes. Stories of Degas' sharp tongue and crustiness abound-he was a solitary misogynist-but his personality is of little importance in comparison to his art. His hundreds of dancers-in oils, pastels, tempera, gouache, charcoal, pencil and bronze-are revelations of human movement; his horses seem alive; and his studies of women at work, bathing, or in cafes, have a sense of reality that is both emotional and intellectual.