In the Footsteps of Edgar Degas in Paris

In the Footsteps of Edgar Degas in Paris
Remarkable Art from a Difficult Man Edgar Degas’ fleeting scenes of 19th-century Paris life were simpatico with the mission of the Impressionist artists, but Degas’ talent in composition and draftsmanship surpassed the other members of the group. Degas was exceptionally skilled in painting, sculpture, drawing and pastel. He taught himself photography and was a collector of contemporary art. Degas was a keen observer of humanity and a master of drawing the human figure in motion. “Observer” is the operative word to describe Degas. Degas was frequently on the outside looking in. The blunt, peeking-through-the-keyhole perspective of his art gave him the reputation as a voyeur. Tagged for posterity as a misogynist, he went to great lengths to paint women in demeaning poses and situations. A life-long bachelor, Degas had no romantic attachments. He drove away his Impressionist colleagues with his irascible attitude and his anti-semitism. In 1834 Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas was born at 8 rue Saint-Georges (9th arrondissement) in Paris. He contracted his surname himself to seem less posh. There is no ‘day’ in Degas. The son of a wealthy banker – it seems many of the Impressionists had wealthy fathers – he registered to be a copyist at the Louvre in 1853, the instant he finished his formal education. He entered the École des Beaux-Arts in 1855, but after one semester he dropped out. After leaving art school, Degas moved to Italy from 1856 -1859. Edgar Degas, The Cotton Exchange. (C) Public Domain On his return, Degas lived at 13 rue Victor Massé (9th arrondissement). Degas developed into a skilled portraitist, depicting himself and family members. He remained at this address until 1870, when he was compelled to serve in the National Guard during the Franco-Prussian War. In 1872 he traveled to New Orleans to assist his brother René with the family’s cotton business. Degas painted The Cotton Exchange during his time there. As a result of the American Civil War and the Paris Commune, René Degas’s cotton import-export business failed. The dependable Degas made himself responsible for his brother’s debts. However, it was a challenge that crippled the artist’s finances and he had to relinquish his spacious apartment and move to a smaller Montmartre studio. Sales from Degas’ many ballet scenes were intended to bail out the family company. On the canvas, Degas’ lithe, young dancers were like a bouquet of pastel tutus. But in reality Degas’ dancers were not romantic figures at all, but underfed and underage girls hiding the aches and pains of a grueling regimen. Hopes for their stellar careers were pinned on rich stage door Johnnies, who, for the subscription of a few performances, were allowed to prey upon these teenaged girls for sexual favors. Degas depicted over 1500 works centered on the ballet. Some images like L’Etoile of 1877 show the glamour, others, like The Dance Lesson, 1879 show the pain.

Lead photo credit : Edgar Degas. (C) Public Domain

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.