Edgar Degas – Beauty, Lightness and Grace

Grace and grace. Elegance and harmony. Yet also lightness. Edgar Degas knew how to combine and immortalize this in his works, be it on canvas with oil or on paper with pastel colors. The French artist had a preference for the motif of the dancer. The ballet and its protagonists, in motion or waiting, were his central pictorial theme.

Born in Paris in 1834, the artist came into contact with art at an early age and grew up in a culturally open environment. Degas is certainly the greatest artist of our time, said Camille Pissarro in 1883, who constantly advances and finds something peculiar in everything that surrounds us.

Often mistakenly attributed to the Impressionists, he exhibited with them several times, Degas was no Impressionist. His art has a different expression, a different origin, a different meaning. His last participation in an Impressionist exhibition took place in 1886, after which he distanced himself. He saw himself as an independent artist with his own handwriting. Degas oriented himself towards the Old Masters and was thus a link between old and new, classical and modern. What they have in common is a sense of light and colour, but Degas does not work in the great outdoors, but in the studio. His lines are more precise, his composition clearer and more structured. Movement was important to Degas. Stylistically, the French painter initially oriented himself on Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres. Similarities in style and lines become clear when comparing the two. During his artistic development, however, his own handwriting was imprinted, his pictures became more dynamic, with more movement and thus appear more lively and real. Degas was able to convey spontaneity and lightness through grace. Degas himself said: “There has never been a less spontaneous art than mine. What I do is the result of the reflection and study of the great masters. I know nothing of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament.”

Edgar Degas “The Dance Class”

Degas focused on his view of the world, but not on the depiction of reality; it was a romantic idea. Some of his pictures seem like spontaneous photographs, because they appear to be excerpts, capturing the moment.

Degas created many portraits, in his delicate and fine style, the composition always harmonious. His pictorial themes were few, but he worked them out skilfully and filigree. Ballet dancers, jockeys and horses, women in the bathroom and Parisian nightlife were at the centre of his work. He became famous, however, primarily through his dancers, in oil on canvas, and also produced numerous drawings in pastel colours, which he discovered to be the perfect medium for himself. He himself saw a higher value in his drawings than in his oil paintings.

Another popular theme of Degas was the woman herself, immersed in various actions, especially bathing, washing or hairdressing. He once said: “Until now, the naked has always been portrayed in poses that presuppose an audience, but these women of mine are respectable, simple human children who have no other interests than those that lie in their physical condition… It’s as if you were looking through a keyhole.” Here he did not show the woman idealized, as it was dictated in academic painting, the sitter remained depicted in her naturalness.

There are well over 200 works by Degas in which he dealt with ballet, mostly dancers behind the scenes, at rehearsals or resting before the performance. At the end of the 1850s, he turned to the motif of the urban, life in the big city, especially that of the Parisians. Degas searched for new and exciting spatial compositions. It was characteristic for him that the action took place at the edge of the picture, i.e. a decentralized composition. Thus he was strongly criticized by art critics of his time for his metropolitan scenes, the works did not correspond to the tradition of classical French painting. But in this way he captured the contemporary events of his time and documented life at that time.

The genre of the portrait accompanied him throughout his life until his death, preferring friends or family members, people he knew. Most of the time he kept the paintings and did not sell them. The images of his loved ones were characterized by a high level of psychological observation. He could turn the inside out.

Edgar Degas “Preparation for the Dance Lesson”

When he discovered pastel painting for himself, his work developed in a direction that was admired by his fellow artists. He developed his own kind of technique, applying the pastel colour layer by layer, fixing each layer with a fixative, whose recipe he had brought from Rome. This technique made the colours appear brighter and reminiscent of fresco painting.

As beautiful and delicate as his work was, his personality was rugged and rough. In the course of his life he lost many friends. Edgar Degas was also known as an anti-Semite. This does not diminish his work, because in his painting he was not political or unpleasant. There were no negative messages. Nevertheless, it is regrettable that Degas was a talented painter with an unpleasant personality. Beyond that, however, very little is known about the person of Edgar Degas.

He probably spent the last years of his life with his niece, he lost more and more of his sight, so that he could no longer carry out oil painting. But then he turned to sculpture and created some sculptures, about 150 sculptures are still preserved. In the year 1917 he died, lonely. His art remained preserved and admired. Beautiful, graceful and harmonious works that can convey a lightness of life.

Comments are closed.