The Sladmore Gallery Ltd
Edgar Degas was born in Paris, France in 1834. He began his schooling with enrolment in the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, graduating with a baccalaureate in literature. His father expected him to go to Law School and in 1853, he registered to study law at the University of Paris. He later met Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and in the same year he received admission to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He focused primarily on drawing and made many copies after Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian.
Degas’ sculpture can be considered outside of the typical works of nineteenth-century French sculpture. His work was extremely personal to him and he focused on the portrayal of subject matter that could be easily understood. Degas paid particular attention to the human form and worked intensely at portraying figures in different poses, trying to capture the essence of his subject. He would depict the ballet dancers of the Paris Opéra, making sketches working directly from life. It is this intimate relationship between Degas and his subject matter that makes his work so immediate and honest. Although he is better known for his pastel drawings, his sculpture is an equally vital contribution to the impressionist movement of the late nineteenth century. Indeed, the bold expression which is present in so many of his sculpted works forms a pivotal development in modern sculpture.
His bronze and painted wax figure the Little Dancer of Fourteen Years (1880-1881), is clothed in a real costume, an innovation that gives it a remarkable immediacy. In his statues of dancers, Degas catches the figures in a transitory moment, as they are about to change position. As in the paintings, Degas strips the dancers of glamour and sometimes reveals them as scrawny adolescents. The surfaces of Degas's bronzes are not smooth but retain the textural qualities of the wax and show his direct and dynamic approach to sculpting.
In 1865, Degas exhibited at the Salon for the first time with a painting entitled Scene of War in the Middle Ages. During this stage in his career, he was heavily influenced by Edouard Manet, whom he met whilst copying works in the Louvre. In 1866, he executed bronze statues of horses and dancers, which complemented his interest in these subjects in his paintings.
With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, he enlisted in the National Guard. After the war, he lived in New Orleans with his relatives, including his brother René. On his return to Paris in 1873, he quickly ran into debts and consequently organised an exhibition with a group of friends to raise some funds. The group decided to hold their own exhibitions as opposed to being constrained by the traditional Salon. This newly formed group of artists were later to be known as the Impressionists. Degas took a leading role in the organisation of their shows and exhibited in all but one of their seven exhibitions. With his newly acquired money, he began to collect works by old masters such as El Greco as well as contemporaries, including Picasso, Van Gogh and Manet.
He continued to work in pastels until 1907 and is believed to have continued making sculpture until 1912, when the impending demolition of his long term residency forced him to move to quarters on the boulevard de Clichy. Having given up his sculpting practice, he spent the last years of his life partially blind and lonely before his death in 1917.