Edgar Degas – French 1834-1917

Edgar Dega Self Portrait
Self Portrait, ca. 1857-58
Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas was born into the family of bankers of aristocratic extraction. His mother died in 1847, so the boy's father, Auguste de Gas, and grandfather, Hilaire de Gas, were the most influential figures in his early life. Despite his own desire to paint he began to study law, but broke off his studies in 1853. He frequented Félix Joseph Barrias’s studio and spent his time copying Renaissance works. In 1854-1859 he made several trips to Italy, some of the time visiting relatives, studying the Old Masters; he painted historical pictures and realistic portraits of his relatives.

By 1860 Degas had drawn over 700 copies of other works, mainly early Italian Renaissance and French classical art. The most important historical work of the period was Spartan Girls Challenging Boys (c.1860-62). It was exhibited only in 1879 at the fifth Impressionist show, and he kept it in his studio throughout his life.

It was with a historical painting The Suffering of the City of New Orleans (1865) that Degas made his salon debut in 1865. The picture got little attention. It must have seemed anachronistic and artificial: a medieval landscape setting and naked women bodies were used to symbolize the sufferings of the American city of New Orleans, which was occupied by Union troops in 1862 in the course of the Civil War.

Edgar Dega Self Portrait
Self Portrait, ca. 1862
In the troubled post-war years Degas undertook his longest journey. In 1872 with his younger brother René, he traveled to New York and New Orleans, where his uncle, his mother's brother, Michel Musson, ran a cotton business. Degas stayed in Louisiana for 5 months and returned to Paris in February 1873. In America he fulfilled a number of works.

After his return from America, Degas had closer contact with dealers such as Durand-Ruel, in an attempt to bring his work to public attention independently of the Salon. In 1874 Degas helped organize the 1st Impressionist exhibition. He always found the term “Impressionism” unacceptable—mainly, perhaps, because he did not share the Impressionists’ over-riding interest in landscape and color. He did not care to be tied down to one method of painting. Nonetheless, Degas was to participate in all the group exhibitions except that of 1882. Degas used the group and the exhibitions high-handedly to promote himself. His strategy seems to have been to show off his own diversity at the exhibitions, for he always entered works that were thematically and technically very varied.

Since late 1860s Degas frequently painted jockeys and race horses. The rapid worsening of his eye condition caused him to avoid all society; he drew pastels, modeled statues in wax and extended his art collection. In 1909-1911, due to failing eyesight, he stopped work completely. After Degas’ death about 150 small sculptural works were found in his studio, and unsurprisingly his subjects tended to be race horses or dancers.

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Degas / Cassatt by Kimberly A. Jones, Elliot Bostwick Davis, Erica E. Hirshler, Ann Hoenigswald, Susan Pinsky – Hardcover: 192 pages; Publisher: Prestel (May 8, 2014)

This surprising study examines the extent to which Mary Cassatt influenced the work of her contemporary Edgar Degas. Edgar Degas's influence upon Mary Cassatt has long been acknowledged, but her role in shaping his artistic production and in preparing the way for his warm reception in America is fully examined for the first time.

Degas and the Nude 1by Xavier Rey, Anne Roquebert, George T.M. Shackelford, Edgar Degas (Artist) – Hardcover: 241 pages Publisher: MFA Publications (October 31, 2011)

The nude figure was critical to the art of Edgar Degas throughout his life, and yet frequently his expansive body of work on this subject has been overshadowed by his celebrated portraits and dancers. Degas and the Nude is the first book in a generation to explore the artist's treatment of the nude from his early years in the 1850s and 1860s, through his triumphs in the 1880s and 1890s, all the way to his last decades when the theme dominated his artistic production in all media.

Edgar Degas: Six Friends at Dieppe 5 by Maureen O'Brien (Author), Jane Roberts, Anna Gruetzner Robins, Linda Catano – Paperback: 114 pages Publisher: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design; First Edition edition (November 15, 2005)

This is beautifully designed book looks at a close circle of artists and intellectuals portrayed by Edgar Degas in the late summer of 1885. On the heels of Ludovic Halevy's election to the Academie Francaise, Degas joined his close friend's family for a holiday on the Normandy coast. Inspired by group photographs, he staged an eccentric portrait composed of Halevy and his son,

Degas and the Business of Art: A Cotton Office in New Orleans by Marilyn R. Brown – Library Binding: 168 pages; Publisher: Penn State University Press (January 26, 1994)

Edgar Degas's painting entitled A Cotton Office in New Orleans is one of the most significant images of nineteenth-century capitalism, in part because it was the first painting by an Impressionist to be purchased by a museum. Drawing upon archival materials, Marilyn R. Brown explores the accumulated social meanings of the work in light of shifting audiences and changing market conditions and assesses the artist's complicated relationship to the business of art.

Degas at Harvard by Marjorie B. Cohn, Jean Sutherland Boggs – Paperback: 128 pages Publisher: Harvard University Art Museums (August 31, 2005)

This handsomely illustrated book presents more than seventy paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, and sculptures by Edgar Degas (1834–1917) in Harvard University’s collections—one of the most important holdings of the artist’s work in the United States. In 1911, the Fogg Art Museum was the first museum to mount a one-man exhibition on Degas and was the only museum to do so during the artist’s lifetime. This book examines the history of Degas’s reception in the U.S., and in particular the pivotal role that Harvard played.

Marjorie Benedict Cohn offers a historical account of the formation of the prized collection of Degas’s works at the Fogg. Jean Sutherland Boggs provides an engaging personal recollection of her initial encounter in 1944 with Degas and his champion at the Fogg, associate director Paul J. Sachs, who inspired not only Boggs’s later work on Degas but also that of many other art historians, museum directors, and curators.

Degas and the Dance by Jill Devonyar, Richard Kendall – Hardcover: 304 pages Publisher: Harry N Abrams (October 2, 2002)

Among the supreme masterpieces of 19th-century art are Edgar Degas's dramatic, incisive, and often brilliantly colored pictures of the ballet. Yet despite his enormous popularity as the foremost artist of the dance-with more than half his vast body of paintings, pastels, drawings, and sculptures devoted to the on- and off-stage activities of ballerinas-this is the first major exhibition and catalogue to illuminate the theme in its historical context.

This authoritative book presents much new material about Degas as an artist and his relationship with the ballet of his day. Far more knowledgeable about the training and technique of dancers than has previously been realized, Degas is shown responding to numerous ballet productions at the Paris Opéra, to the shadowy life of the wings, and to the daily routines of the classroom. With huge crowds expected to throng the exhibition venues at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art , this lavish, richly illustrated volume should fascinate a wide audience of art- and dance-lovers alike.

Degas in New Orleans: Encounters in the Creole World of Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable by Christopher E. G. Benfey – Paperback, 294 pages (April 1999) Univ California Press

Edgar Degas traveled from Paris to New Orleans during the fall of 1872 to visit the American branch of his mothers family, the Mussons. This war-torn, diverse, and conflicted city elicited from Degas some of his finest paintings. He arrived at a key moment in the cultural history of this most exotic of American cities, still recovering from the agony of the Civil War. This decisive period of Reconstruction, in which his American relatives were importantly involved, was also the time when the American writers Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable were beginning to mine the resources of New Orleans culture and history.

Degas in New Orleans: Encounters in the Creole World of Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable by Christopher BenfeyHardcover: 294 pages – Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (November 11, 1997)

Edgar Degas traveled from Paris to New Orleans during the fall of 1872 to visit the American branch of his mothers family, the Mussons. This war-torn, diverse, and conflicted city elicited from Degas some of his finest paintings. He arrived at a key moment in the cultural history of this most exotic of American cities, still recovering from the agony of the Civil War. This decisive period of Reconstruction, in which his American relatives were importantly involved, was also the time when the American writers Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable were beginning to mine the resources of New Orleans culture and history

The Private Collection of Edgar Degas by Gary Tinterow, N.Y.) Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, Ann Dumas (Editor) – Paperback: 356 pages Publisher: Metropolitan Museum of Art New York (October 1997)

When Edgar Degas died in 1917, his heirs found crate after crate gathering dust in the rented rooms inhabited by the isolated old artist. The opened containers revealed one of the greatest personal art collections of all time: There were paintings, drawings, and prints by El Greco, Ingres, Delacroix, Daumier, Cassatt, Manet, van Gogh, Cézanne, and Degas himself, including the famous Bellelli Family, a work from his youth that Degas could never bear to part with. When his heirs auctioned off the collection in 1918, governments granted national museums special funds to make purchases, even though it was the height of World War I and money was tight. The museums, it turned out, were also aided by the war--on the day of the sale, cannon fire sent most bidders running for cover. The ones who remained got bargain prices. This gorgeous book is filled with color plates of many of the paintings, and its 14 thoughtful essays are invaluable to comprehending the tastes of a single artist, one with the eye and the wherewithal to put together such an amazing collection.

The Impressionists: Degas Starring: Edward Herrmann, Victor Garber Director: Bruce Alfred; Color, NTSC; DVD Release Date: February 28, 2006; Run Time: 50 minutes; U.S. and Canada only

This epic documentary does a wonderful job of recapturing the revolutionary impact the impressionists made while providing a historical and artistic context for this extraordinary group of painters. The work of Monet, Degas, Morisot, and their fellow impressionists has now become so familiar that its power to shock has all but disappeared.

Young and resolutely modern, these artists threw off the shackles of academic art to capture everyday life in paintings that were iconoclastic in both style and subject. At first they struggled to survive because their work was rejected by the conservative Paris Salon, but those with independent means helped those without (Monet in particular was frequently rescued from poverty by his friends), and gradually they became impossible to ignore. Bruce Alfred's script thoroughly explains the development of the impressionists' approach to art and reveals fascinating aspects of their individual personalities, while a combination of dramatic reconstructions, period photographs, and the paintings themselves creates a rich and informative visual tapestry. Anyone with an interest in the history of art will find much to enjoy. —Simon Leake

Degas and the Dance - The Man Behind the Easel (1999) Color, Dolby, Enhanced, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC; DVD Release Date: April 6, 2004; Run Time: 54 minutes; U.S. and Canada only

Reader review: This is a lovely documentary/film made in conjunction with the 2002-3 exhibit "Degas and the Dance," the curators of which are featured commentators: one is an art historian, the other a former dancer and ballet instructor who specializes in late 19th Century French dance. Together, they paint a vivid and informative picture of Degas' life-long relationship with the Paris Opera.
This is not a biography of Degas; it is an exploration—through his art—of his fascination with dancers and his obsession with perfection. The program features many of his well- and lesser-known paintings and pastels, with enough intelligent discussion and close-ups to keep most viewers happy. It goes further, though, to show (through re-enactments) Degas' working methods and his restless experimentation with alternative mediums and techniques.

Edgar Degas: Drawings and Pastels by Christopher Lloyd – Hardcover: 320 pages; Publisher: J. Paul Getty Museum; 1st edition (March 28, 2014) Best Seller

Edgar Degas (1834 –1917) was one of the outstanding draftsmen of the nineteenth century, and drawing was not only a central tenet of his art but also essential to his existence. Through an examination of his drawings and pastels, this book reveals the development of Degas’s style as well the story of his life, including his complicated relationship with the Impressionists.

Degas Landscapes by Mr. Richard Kendall – Hardcover: 322 pages Publisher: Yale University Press (December 29, 1993)

Degas was considered to be the dominant figurative painter among the French Impressionists. British art historian Kendall presents a highly focused study that details the artist's more than 40 years as a landscapist.

The Spectacular Body: Science, Method, and Meaning in the Work of Degas 5by Anthea Callen - Hardcover: 256 pages; Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st edition (February 22, 1995)

Explores the ways in which the human body, especially the female body, was visualized by artists in the late-19th century. The book focuses on the work of Degas and deals with issues of gender, sexuality and visual representation to illuminate the Impressionist's depictions of women.

Edgar Degas: Waiting by Richard Thomson – Paperback: 108 pages; Publisher: J. Paul Getty Museum; 1 edition (May 25, 1995)

Degas's pastel Waiting (L'Attente) is an extraordinary object in its craftsmanship and color, as well as in the emotional pull it exerts upon the viewer. But in addition to these, which we expect from a great work of art, Waiting also has an aura of ambiguity and even mystery. This study look at both its aesthetic qualities and the deeper questions that it arouses.

Art in the Making: Degas (National Gallery London Publications) by David Bomford, Sarah Herring, Jo Kirby, Christopher Riopelle, Ashok Roy – Paperback: 160 pages Publisher: National Gallery London (November 10, 2004)

One of art history’s most admired artists, Edgar Degas (1834–1917) challenged contemporary conventions with his intriguing working methods. This generously illustrated study is the latest title in the National Gallery’s series Art in the Making. Drawing on both technical studies and documentary evidence, it takes a fascinating look at Degas’s techniques in the context of his life and artistic milieu as well as his place in the Impressionist movement.
The book includes a vivid biographical sketch, an essay on Degas’s working methods and materials, a discussion of his reputation in Britain, and catalogue entries on 14 works owned by or on loan to the National Gallery.

Degas and America: The Early Collectors by David Brenneman Ann Duman – Hardcover: 248 pages Publisher: Rizzoli (February 10, 2001)

American collectors, critics, and artists played a key role in introducing Degas's art to the United States. Featuring reproductions of well-known masterpieces and little-known treasures, Degas and America celebrates the artistic savvy of the Americans who helped make impressionism the most popular movement in modern art. Early taste for Degas in America embraced his work in all media-oils, pastels, drawings, prints, and sculpture. Essays by an impressive group of scholars explain how the early collectors of Degas's work helped to shape his career and our image of the artist.

Degas and New Orleans: A French Impressionist in America by Gail Feigenbaum, Jean Sutherland Boggs – Paperback: 301 pages Publisher: Rizzoli (May 1, 2000)

Edgar Degas is admired today as the quintessential artist of Paris: painter of ballet dancers, bathers, and laundresses, of the racetrack and the theater. Degas and New Orleans: A French Impressionist in America explores a different Degas in another place: a sojourner with his family in New Orleans, on the unique occasion when the subtlest and most advanced ideas of French painting alighted on the banks of the Mississippi River. Degas and New Orleans accompanies a major exhibition that reassembles most of the fascinating art that Degas created during his visit and places this work in its remarkable context of family drama and American history.

In addition to the works generally believed to have been executed by Degas in New Orleans, the book includes paintings, pastels, drawings, prints and sculpture done in Europe that reflect Degas's relationship to the city and that are specifically related in theme or style, or are very close in date. Finally, to help clarify its character, the New Orleans work is complemented by a selection of Degas's "typical" subjects, such as dancers and racetracks. Family letters, documents, heirlooms, and vintage photographs from the period help to summon forth the context of the sole visit to America by a French Impressionist.

Degas (Treasures of Art) Degas (Treasures of Art) (Hardcover) by Trewin Copplestone – Hardcover: 80 pages; Publisher: Gramercy (September 9, 1998)

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917) became a professional painter through a change in his family's fortunes. He grew up the privileged son of wealthy and cultured parents and despite his interest in art was destined for a career in law until the failure of the family bank.

More than any of his famous contemporaries, while possibly excluding Manet, Degas was a traditionalist painter. He was dismissive of the Impressionist technique as a method, although he participated in most of the group's early exhibitions. As a result, he is more closely allied in popular understanding with Impressionism than he himself ever wished to be.

Best known for his paintings of ballet Dancers, Degas was an urbane and savagely witty man, choosing his subjects from the cultured society life of Paris in which he was a well known figure.

Degas: Beyond Impressionism by Richard Kendall – Hardcover (September 1996) Art Institute of Chicago Museum

Designed to accompany a major exhibit in London and Chicago and illustrated with 170 color plates and 120 black-and-white reproductions, a study of the artist's later career investigates the themes, techniques, and imagery of Degas's last decades.

Degas Portraits by Edgar Degas (Editor), Marianne Karabelnik (Editor), Felix Baumann (Editor) – Hardcover, 372 pages (March 1995) Merrell Holerton Publishers

Degas at the Races by Jean Sutherland Boggs, Shelley Sturman, Daphne S. Barbour (Contributor), Kimberley Jones (Contributor) – Hardcover, 288 pages Yale Univ Press

This beautiful book reproduces more than 120 paintings, drawings, pastels, sculptures, and prints of horses and scenes at the racecourse-all created by Edgar Degas. Examining for the first time Degas`s lifelong interest in the world of jockeys and horses, the book discusses the artist`s portrayals of people at the racing grounds and the importance of the horse as a source of his inspiration.

Degas: An Intimate Portrait by Ambroise Vollard – Paperback, 93 pages (August 1986) Dover Pubns

Charming, anecdotal memoir by famous art dealer of one of the greatest 19th-century French painters. 14 illustrations. Introduction by Harold L. Van Doren.

Degas and the Little Dancer by Richard Kendall, Douglas W. Druick (Contributor), Arthur Beale (Contributor) – Hardcover, 192 pages (March 1998) Yale Univ Press

This beautiful book is the first full-length study of Degas`s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, one of the most famous and beloved of all nineteenth-century sculptures. The book surveys the history, character, and significance of the sculpture, as well as its social context and the mixed reactions to it over the years.

Degas by Robert Gordon, Andrew Forge (Contributor), Richard Howard (Translator) – Hardcover, 288 pages Reprint edition (October 1996) Harry N Abrams

Degas-Unquiet Spirit Color, NTSC; VHS Release Date: June 16, 2000; Run Time: 68 minutes

Degas was a complex man and an unorthodox artist. Especially controversial was his treatment of women as subjects, whom he often showed engaged in earthy and unglamorous activities. This program includes many original paintings, drawings, and prints to show Degas' favorite settings—the ballet class, the racecourse, the railway--and to explain his innovative use of the camera.

Degas – Beyond Impressionism (1998) Color, NTSC; VHS Release Date: June 16, 2000; Run Time: 30 minutes

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