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Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Edgar Degas was an acclaimed painter, printmaker and sculptor and an early pioneer of Impressionism.

Degas was born in Paris in 1834, the son of a banker. He spent most of his life in Paris. He originally trained as a lawyer but in 1855 he abandoned his legal studies to train as an artist with the academic painter Louis Lamothe at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

The artist must live alone, and his private life must remain unknown
Edgar Degas

Degas' father died in 1874 leaving large debts to pay off and Degas was forced to rely on his paintings to earn money. To help raise his profile he organised the first exhibition of Impressionism with Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

His early paintings were of very traditional subjects such as historical scenes or landscapes. Famously Degas was influenced by his friend Edouard Manet to paint from life. Like Manet, Degas liked painting people rather than landscapes and often created work in his studio using models rather than painting from real life like other Impressionists.

Today he is best known for his paintings of ballet dancers and race horses.

In the 1880s an eye infection weakened Degas' sight. This forced him to focus on sculpture over painting. His sculptures were as ground-breaking as his paintings. They looked extremely realistic and were painted in flesh colours and dressed in real clothes with wigs of human hair.

With the exception of The Little Dancer Aged 14 none of the sculptures were exhibited until after he died.

Degas was a reclusive man though famed as a brilliant conversationalist. He practised the new technique of photography, and his photographs were used as compositional aides for his paintings.

Degas died in Paris in 1917.