EDGAR DEGAS: Painter of Moments of Happenings

Ballet Dancers on the Stage Edgar Degas
Pastel on Paper Dallas Museum of Arts Texas

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see."      

Degas believed so, and he had never disappointed the viewers, his art-lovers.

The Painter of Dance and Dancers, Edgar Degas, was born in 1934 in France. This French artist had become a student of classical art at an early age. He continued experimenting with sculpture and printmaking throughout his life, but his area of occupation remained painting.
Though regarded as one of the founders of impressionists like Renoir, Degas preferred to be known as a realist painter. Edgar Degas was known for his paintings depicting movements of the objects he painted. He painted the dancers; he painted women models showing dance movements, and he painted running horses. 

Art of Degas   Degas was well-known for his pastel paintingsWe can call Edgar Degas a painter of the moments; the moments that would make a painting memorable; a moment that would make a painting telling us the story happening around the characters painted. Edgar Degas became famous for his exceptional skill in portrait painting. His portraits became some of the finest portraits in the history of art. Unlike many other artists who painted portraits for their clients, Degas introduced some novel features in his portraits.

Portrait of a young woman Edgar Degas 
Oil on Canvas  Musee d'Orsay, Paris

Degas believed that while portraying a person his or her social status must be felt by the viewers. Moreover, the seat of employment of the person portrayed should occupy the prominence on the frame. If these features are incorporated into the portrait, the viewers can have a genuine idea about the person portrayed. 

While looking at the portraits painted by Degas, we realise that he had applied this concept in his portraits. He did this by depicting the physical appearances and the attitude-packed postures of the sitter. He used to minutely observe the style and qualities of dresses and other attributes. 

The Indoor Impressionist Unlike other impressionist painters of his time and the other artists with whom he worked, Edgar Degas preferred working indoors. He depended upon his memory and the models he called to appear in his studio. In the case of landscapes, too, he had repeated the subjects very often, doing a certain variation of colour scheme here or the positioning the subjects there. That's what the master artists often do.

In his paintings, in addition to preoccupied with the dance scenes, he was inclined to paint and draw the subjects that performed the actions, the act on a moment. The painting of the moments, that too on pastels, was the field that had remained relatively untouched by any artist of Edgar’s calibre; and this field, along with his rapport with the circus and the dancers provided him with rich resources to paint.

Singer with a Glove Edgar Degas
Pastel on Paper Fog Museum, Harward

Painting Moments of Joy and Movement   Edgar Degas a student of classical art at an early age was born in 1934 in France. He became a famous artist for his diverse artistic prowess. In addition to doing the painting, he continued experimenting with sculpture and printing making throughout his life. 

However, Degas's  main area of occupation remained drawing and painting. Though regarded as one of the founders of the impressionism movement, along with the painters like Renoir and others, Degas preferred to be known as a realist painter of his time.

Range of pastel colours: Patel colours provide us with a long index of choices: warm red, cold red, orange, cold yellow, warm green, cold green, cold blue, warm blue, cold and warm violet. 

This painting, Singer with a Glove, is a famous masterpiece. This pastel on paper, the original masterpiece was painted in 1878. In his paintings, in addition to preoccupied with the dancing and singing scenes, he was inclined to paint and draw the subjects depicting the action of a moment. This field was relatively untouched by any artist of Edgar’s calibre. It provided him with rich resources in finding the subjects to paint. 

Dancer      Edgar Degas
Pastel on Paper   Musee d'Orsay, Paris

"In art, nothing should look like chance, not even a movement."–Edgar Degas

Degas was not from the clan of the artists who maintained their families from the income received from sale proceeds of paintings. He was from a wealthy family. You know, to get the means for survival is the main hurdle for most artists.

Though being a member of the impressionist group, Degas honoured the convention of line drawing and marking out the figures clearly.  For Degas, the painting was the study of conventions. Being a master in re-creating the movements of the objects being painted, he did several artworks depicting the horses and dancers. He studied in Italy, and his understanding of the paintings displayed at the Louvre helped him turning himself into an artist of precision and unmatched greatness.

Dance hall at the Opéra on rue Le Peletier    Edgar Degas
Oil on Canvas  Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Tips For The Artists: While using pastels as your medium of painting, you must choose the support, the paper, very carefully. if you are a beginner, you would find choosing a suitable paper a confusing task. But it is not so difficult. Vote for the tooth. The paper should have enough tooth; the coarseness of the paper, that would hold the materials, the pastel colours firmly. However, grading the coarseness of the paper should certainly be matching your style of painting. 

Look at the above painting. It reflects several things attached to the art of painting. After drawing the figures or marking the spaces for objects, for an artist, it would necessary to think about the relationship. The interpersonal relationship of the figures to be painted on canvas. It is like an interrelationship of the art qua the artist.  

Then there is an interrelationship with the object, too. The inter-relationship of the objects generates a feeling of something happening or watching an event. Then there come the compositional aspects. The compositional aptitude of the artist would generate a strong interest of the viewers in the final product, the painting. Degas had mastered these subtle aspects of the painting, too. [All images are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]

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