Edgar Degas

Hilaire Germain Edgar de Gas, known as Edgar Degas, born on July 19, 1834 in Paris, and died on September 27, 1917 in the same city, is a French painter, engraver, sculptor and photographer, naturalist and impressionist.

If Degas is a founding member of the Impressionist group, his work is so varied in its themes and its practice that it does not join them in their most well-known traits. Its exceptional situation does not escape the critics of the time, often destabilized by its avant-gardism, which is still the subject of many debates today with art historians.

“Rather large, with a powerful head, a sly face, a high, broad, bulging forehead, crowned with a silky, chestnut hair; The eyes sharp, malignant, interrogative, buried under a high arcade brow in the form of circumflex, the nose somewhat turned up, the mouth thin, half-hidden under a light beard that the razor has not touched, “Edgar De Gas was an aristocrat, son of Augustus de Gas, banker and Célestine Musson, an American Creole from New Orleans. His maternal grandfather, Germain Musson, was born in Port-au-Prince (Haiti) of French origin and settled in New Orleans in 18103,4

De Gas was born in Paris at No. 8 rue Saint Georges, July 19, 1834, and grew up in a bourgeois cultured environment. He has two brothers and two sisters and enjoys a golden childhood in the Rue Saint-Georges. Between 1845 and 1853, he studied at the Lycee Louis-le-Grand where he taught Leon Cogniet. There he meets Alexis Rouart, Paul Valpinçon and Ludovic Halevy, who will be his close friends. In 1847 his mother died at the age of thirty-two.

If the painter was born under the patronymic of De Gas, he did in fact only take back the original name of his family by calling himself Degas. Indeed, his paternal grandfather, the banker Hilaire de Gas, separated his name in two after leaving France for the kingdom of Naples at the time of the Revolution. The latter lives in Naples where he marries a young woman of the Neapolitan nobility and also buys a country house in Capodimonte, Villa Paternò, which several times welcomed the young Edgar Degas on holiday. Edgar’s father, Pierre-Auguste, had moved to Paris to open a branch of the paternal bank.

After his bachelor’s degree in 1853, Edgar Degas enrolled at the Faculty of Law to satisfy his father’s ambitions, but left his studies in 1855. From 1853, he began attending the National Library’s Prints Cabinet. A tireless draftsman, he copied works by Albrecht Dürer, Andrea Mantegna, Paul Veronese, Francisco Goya, Rembrandt. He spent his days at the Louvre, where he was admitted as a copyist on 7 April 1853, fascinated by Italian, Dutch and French painters. He enrolled in Félix-Joseph Barrias’s then rather famous studio, then studied painting with Louis Lamothe in 1855, who had been a disciple of Ingres and brothers Paul and Hippolyte Flandrin. For his part, his father, a refined amateur of art and music, introduced him to some of the greatest collectors in Paris, such as Lacaze, Marcille, and Valpinçon.

At that time, Degas settled in an unheated garret in the Latin Quarter, at the break of his father, who opposed his vocation as a painter and the abandonment of his studies in law. He attributed the beginning of his eye problems, and later his semi-blindness, to the cold of winter: “It was in this attic that I became cold in my eyes.” Much later, in 1877, he wrote to a friend: “Sometimes I see passing before my eyes like a light cloud.”

In 1855, he began to attend classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The same year, he visited Ingres to present his drawings. However, preferring to approach the art of the great classical masters such as Luca Signorelli, Sandro Botticelli and Raphael, he began to travel from Italy in 1856 to 1860, first in his family in Naples, then in Rome and Florence, where he Became friends with the painter Gustave Moreau in 1858. In 1859, back in Paris, Degas took a workshop at No. 13 rue de Laval. In 1862 he met Édouard Manet at the Louvre, and met other young painters and writers at the Café Guerbois in Montmartre: Monet, Ludovic-Napoleon Lepic, Pisarro, Bazille, Fantin-Latour and even Zola. There artists exchange views, criticisms and theories about what art should be.

His early works include some neo-classical paintings, but mostly numerous portraits of his family members. In 1865, he exhibited at the Salon Scène de guerre in the Middle Ages, or the Portrait of Madame Camus in red in 1870. The friend and writer Louis Edmond Duranty wrote about the young painter copying a Poussin in the Louvre: A rare intelligence, preoccupied with ideas, which seemed foreign to most of his colleagues, as he took advantage of the fact that there was no method of transition, in his active brain, always in a boil, Inventor of social chiaroscuro. ”

Always deeply marked by the style of Ingres, he visited the retrospective organized after the master’s death in 1867. He went on a journey with Manet to Boulogne-sur-Mer and Brussels where he sold three paintings, one to a King’s minister Of the Belgians. Degas signs his first contract with a Belgian merchant. He spent the summer of 1869 in Étretat and Villers-sur-Mer where he performed his first pastels.

He enlisted in the infantry when the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 broke out, and with Manet he was placed under the orders of Ernest Meissonier.

In 1871, Degas went to London where he exhibited and Paul Durand-Ruel bought him three works in 1872.

Between October 1872 and March 1873, he stayed with his brother René in New Orleans, in his mother’s family where he painted the Portraits in an office or The Cotton Office in New Orleans. This painting depicting his uncle, his brothers and his cousins ​​at work, was presented at the second Impressionist exhibition, where Zola reproaches him for being too close to an illustration for an illustrated newspaper. In 1878, the Musée de Pau purchased the painting, which was the first work of Degas to enter into a French public collection.

He returned to Paris at the end of March 1873 and moved to No. 77 rue Blanche.

Despite his travels in the provinces and abroad, especially in Italy, it is Paris that mainly counts for Degas – and Paris, Montmartre. He frequents some cenacles, workshops, literary cafes, the family of the engineer and painter Henri Rouart, the family Manet, Berthe Morisot and Stéphane Mallarmé. With a few bourgeois, his intimates, he leads a conformist life as a haughty, but worldly bachelor. From his family environment, he retains reserve and respect for principles. His delicacy of heart, his moral intransigence, earned him the esteem of all, but his well-known scathing replies caused some to escape. He participates actively in the discussions that bring together the young avant-garde artists and his friend Édouard Manet at Café Guerbois. Degas was surrounded by numerous artists such as Camille Desboutin, Nittis, James Tissot, Zandomeneghi, Sognorini, Martelli, Gioli, Chialiva, Rossano, Boldini, Stevens and Whistler. Later he became friends with Mary Cassatt With Jean-Louis Forain, Paul Gauguin or the art dealer Michel Manzi, and then later quarrel with Claude Monet and Caillebotte.

On December 27, 1873, Edgar Degas with Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, Ludovic-Napoleon Lepic and Berthe Morisot founded the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Painters, Sculptors and Engravers. Manager is Pierre-Firmin Martin. They invest their own funds to organize a first exhibition in the premises of the photographer Nadar. The critical reception of this exhibition gives its name to the Impressionist group whereas Degas against the opinion of Monet and Renoir would have called titled Les Intransigeants

From 1874 to 1886, Degas entrusted works to impressionist exhibitions (he participated in seven of them out of eight) and Degas participated very actively in their organization. He then had many contacts with painters of his generation, notably Camille Pissarro, but also with younger avant-garde artists.

In 1875 he traveled to Italy in Naples. Then took part in the second exhibition of the Impressionists at Paul Durand-Ruel. Degas successively switches from rue Blanche’s studio to rue Lepic. From 1875, plagued by many material difficulties, painting became its source of income.
On April 13, 1876, the critic Arthur Baignieres wrote: “At the head of the men, we place Mr Degas, the pontiff, I believe of the sect of Impressionist intransigents. ”

In the 1880s, when his eyes began to decline, Degas preferred pastel, to which he sometimes mixed watercolor and gouache. The paintings of this period testify to a very modern work on the expressiveness of the color and the line. He sponsors Paul Gauguin to the Impressionists. In 1878, he painted The Glove Singer (Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum). Degas goes to the concert, to the Opera, he leads a worldly life, on Sunday he goes to horse races … All the modern and Parisian life interests him as well the coffee-concerts, the coffee terraces on the great boulevards, Prostitutes or laundresses.

In 1881 he presented the statue of La Petite Danseuse of fourteen at the sixth exhibition of the Impressionists; The sculpture creates scandal in the press. He regularly stays with his friends Halévy and Blanche in Normandy between Étretat and Dieppe where he participates in the writing of the play La Cigale which mocks the impressionists of Barbizon. The French collector and baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure sued him for insufficiently worked works, a lawsuit that Degas lost. In 1884, after the Manet retrospective, Degas bought three Manets for the sale of the workshop. In 1886, Paul Durand-Ruel organized the first exhibition of Degas in New York where twenty nudes created controversy.

In 1889, Joris-Karl Huysmans devoted a chapter to the nudes of Degas in his collection Some. Degas works the sculpture. Around 1890, he left painting to devote himself to pastel, monotypes and photography. He buys paintings by Ingres and Delacroix. The exhibition of twenty-six landscapes, which he presents in October 1892 at the Galerie Durand-Ruel, is his first and last personal exhibition in Paris. In 1896, the Caillebotte bequest was accepted by the Luxembourg Museum, and seven works by Degas then integrated the public collections. Degas exposes his photographs. He buys Cezanne for his collection.

Famous for his intransigent character, his humor or his bite, Degas is a painter feared for his judgments. For example he said Meissonier meticulous painter, renowned then and small: “He is the giant of the dwarfs!”

The Dreyfus affair, in 1897, confused him with his friends, especially the Halevs, with whom he returned after the rehabilitation of Captain Dreyfus in 1908. Edgar Degas, Jean-Louis Forain, Jules Lemaitre and Gustave Schlumberger expressed a great anger in the Salon of Geneviève Straus when Joseph Reinach defended the innocence of Dreyfus. Like the critic Jules Lemaître, the painter Auguste Renoir, the poets José-Maria de Heredia and Pierre Louÿs, the composer Vincent d’Indy, among others, Degas was a member of the League of the French homeland, a moderate anti-Dreyfusard league.

At the end of the 1890s, he complained that his eyes were falling, he devoted himself almost exclusively to sculpture, which he had practiced for some ten years, transposing his favorite subjects into wax. He binds with Suzanne Valadon who poses for him. In 1903, Louise Havemeyer tries to acquire the original wax of La Petite Danseuse of fourteen years, without success. In 1911, the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge in the United States devoted a retrospective. In 1912, ruined, he moved to No. 6 Boulevard de Clichy in a small studio-apartment; Demoralized, it hardly works any more.

Beginning in 1905, the painter became more and more entrenched in his studio, embittered by the blindness that won him and the prostatic incontinence. He travels omnibus in Paris following the prescription of his doctor. He began to wander in Paris, sometimes clothed in rags, marching towards his old address on rue Victor Massé, then in demolition. In 1915, he refuses to be filmed by Sacha Guitry, who uses a subterfuge to film him walking in the street in Ceux de chez nous. Suzanne Valadon, one of the last models of the painter regularly visits him.

The failure of his family (his father’s death, the financial problems of his brother Achilles), his difficult character, his bitter spirit, his ferocious jokes, his anti-Semitism, his often intransigent positions, the inexorable progression of his eye disorders To accentuate the misanthropy so often denounced by this old bachelor. However, he continued to take an interest in creation, receiving artists in his studio until his move to Boulevard de Clichy in 1912.

Poor and almost blind in recent years, Degas died on September 27, 1917, at his home on 6 Boulevard de Clichy (18th), an 83-year-old cerebral aneurysm surrounded by his collections. He is buried in the family vault in the cemetery of Montmartre (fourth division), accompanied by the representative of the Minister of Fine Arts, painters Henri Gervex, Léon Bonnat and Jean-Louis Forain in uniform. According to the wishes of Degas, there was no discourse: “I do not want a speech. Yes ! Forain you will make one, you will say: he loved drawing. The following year, the works accumulated in his studio and his important collection are scattered at auction.

The extent of Degas’s work has silenced his activity as a collector. If we do not know the date when Degas begins to collect, we know that his father and his grandfather were also passionate collectors.

The first purchase attested dates from 1873 and it is the plowed fields of Pissarro. But in the second half of the 1870s, there was no trace of purchase and he even seemed to sell Quentin de La Tour pastels to deal with family financial difficulties. His purchases resumed in 1881 once difficulties had been overcome. Degas’s purchases of the years 1870-1880 are mainly directed towards the artists participating in the avant-garde of his era including the future Impressionists. But he is also interested in the great masters of the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1885, he acquired a small version of Oedipus and the Sphinx of Ingres reduced variant of that of the Louvre. This type of purchase was not meant to be unique in the 1880s, when, at the time of one of his movements in April 1890, his collections were sufficiently important for Degas to ironically announce his new address: “Hotel Ingres Changes place and is transferred 23, rue Ballu “.

During the 1890s, Degas continued his purchases of modern artists. He will buy the various sales organized by Paul Gauguin.

In 1899, his friends consecrated him “the Phoenix of the collectors”. From 1900 his purchases slowed down; The Chennevières sale is the opportunity to acquire works by Theodore Caruelle d’Aligny, Théodore Géricault and Ingres. His latest discovery was undoubtedly in 1903, La Poissarde, a woman seated at his window, whom he procured at Durand-Ruel in memory of Paul-Émile Destouches, where he went to pose with his mother, rue du Bac, a Portrait in his collection.

This collection could be gathered first because certain works are donations, of Edouard Manet, Albert Bartholome, Gustave Caillebotte, and even almost legacies. His collection encompasses a whole part of French painting of the nineteenth century, its center of gravity being Ingres and Eugène Delacroix. It contains a large number of portraits. The best-represented artist is Ingres, with twenty paintings, eighty-eight drawings; The ensemble devoted to Delacroix comprises thirteen paintings and one hundred and twenty-nine drawings. It is these two painters and Honoré Daumier that Degas considered the greatest designers of the nineteenth century. It retained 1,800 lithographs by Daumier and 2,000 prints by Paul Gavarni. Degas also possessed almost all the engravings of Manet. He has also amassed Japanese prints, like many contemporary artists, from Kiyonaga, Sukenobu, Utamaro and Hokusai. Landscapes are very rarely represented in his collection: seven Corot, one Sisley (La Fabrique during the flood) and three Pissarro.

Degas lives in the midst of his paintings, as the old photographs testify. His copies and his collections are a kind of imaginary museum that allows him to have everything he loves and admires; His collection was composed at his death of five hundred paintings and drawings and more than five thousand lithographs.

The influence of Ingres was certainly preponderant in his youth. At twenty-one, the young Degas gets to meet the old master in his studio. In the same year, he copied with passion the works presented in the retrospective devoted to Ingres. Painted at this time, Degas’ first large self-portrait clearly refers to Ingres’s one dating from 1804. The young artist, however, did not represent himself as a painter but as a draftsman, a charcoal holder in his hand, remembering To be the advice Ingres had just given him: “Make lines, many lines, and you will become a good artist. ”

Even at the end of his career, Degas did not abandon the academic approach of putting in place a composition with the help of preparatory drawings, in particular studies based on a living model. In the same way that he prepared his paintings of history, he often used drawing for his last scenes of modern life. He continues to apply the precepts of Ingres. Remembering Ingres’s feminine nudes, like La Baigneuse Valpinçon, he draws his women to their toilette, tracing their contours in a dark and sensual way.

Degas admired the works that Eugène Delacroix presented at the Salon of 1859 and studied his painting, including an oil copy of the Crusaders’ Entrance to Constantinople. From now on, Degas endeavored to reconcile color and drawing, movement and structure, realizing the synthesis of the various influences that he continues to collect.

In his later period, Degas is increasingly calling for brilliant colors and complementary color harmonies. As a worthy successor to Delacroix, he frees his palette from all constraints to paint in his own words “orgies of color”. In 1889 Degas traveled to Tangier in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor.

Most of the works devoted to Edgar Degas, when they wish to classify him in the history of art, relate him to the great movement of Impressionism, formed in France in the last third of the nineteenth century in reaction to academic painting of the time. Artists such as Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot and Camille Pissarro, who were tired of being officially refused at the official trade fairs, Show their works to the public.

Impressionist art is often summed up with the effects of open-air lights. These characteristics, however, are not applicable to Degas, although he is one of the principal founding members and animators of Impressionist exhibitions. He finds his place in the movement by his technical invention, his activism and by the freedom of painting advocated by the group, which he would have liked to name Les Intransigeants. In the open air he prefers, by far, “what we see only in his memory” and work in the studio. Addressing himself to a painter he said: “To you, it is necessary to the natural life, to me the artificial life. “.