The impressionist age was a time of artistic rebellion to the common standards of art in late nineteenth-century France. Rather than painting in the traditionalist fashion, focusing on the exotic subject matter, powerful figureheads, and historic scenes, impressionists painted everyday life as it was. The impressionists were known for using bright, unmixed colors to illustrate luminosity through texture. They opted for less detail in order to create an overall effect. “The impressionists allowed their brushstrokes to retain the liveliness and seeming spontaneity of a sketch.” (Encarta 2001) A common technique they used called impasto used thick textural dabs of paint. This technique is seen in many impressionist paintings.
What would the impressionist age be without one of it’s greatest, Edgar Degas? This leader in impressionism is characterized by his famous and influential paintings, reflecting the life and times of this era. The voyeuristic quality to his paintings gave a different angle to look from. This came along with the invention of the camera. Degas used the idea of cropping pictures and using levels to create a 3D effect, as well as incorporating asymmetrical balance. In addition, impressionist experimented with different mediums, in order to get their desired effect.
Hilaire Germain Edgar de Gas was born into a wealthy family on July 19, 1834. It wasn’t until later on in life that he adopted his shortened name, Edgar Degas. His father was a banker who was also very interested in the arts, giving young Edgar the direction he needed by taking him to the art museums in Paris. He was devoid of bohemian values, a spreading epidemic among artists emerging at this time. When he was 18, his father provided him with a studio to pursue his career in art.
Degas started off painting very traditionalistic pictures, eloquently copying famous works of the Old Masters in the Louvre. It was there that he met Manet, an impressionist who would soon come to introduce Degas to the changing world of art in Paris.
Manet was a very big influence on Degas. He brought him to meet his contemporaries Cézanne`, Renoir, Sisley, Monet, and Pisarro, as well as writers Emile Zola and Edmund Duranty at the Café Guerbois in Paris where they met weekly and discussed art and the world around them. When Prussia moved in on France in 1870-1871 resulting in the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, Degas as well as his colleagues were forced to fight for their country. When they were out of the service, changes surrounded them. Gustave Courbet became the commissioner of arts. He was a realist, and revolutionized the way art was accepted in Paris. This broadened the impressionist movement and gave impressionist artists more exposure, as well as acceptance.
Edgar Degas painted in a very specific style. Known for his off center cropped images that he painted, he tried to capture the spirit of modern life in his artwork. He began with the manners and style of the late nineteenth century upper class. This was the social class he was grouped into. Degas was greatly influenced by the Renaissance painter Ingres. He also incorporated the romanticism of DelaCroix, the realism of Courbet, plein air painting style and pastoral scenes in his early work. His true impressionist flair surfaced years after he began painting- after he met Manet. During his later years he began to experiment with different mediums and techniques, using oils, pastels, tempera and wax. He was especially fond of pastels in his old age as he was losing his eyesight; he preferred them to any other medium.
Later on in his painting career, his attitude changed, becoming more bohemian. He even began to paint landscapes, something he deemed pointless earlier on. He also took a very strong liking to the stage- especially ballet. He painted a series of paintings overlooking all aspects of ballet. The first of this series was in 1881, called “A Dancer at the Age of Fourteen.” He painted the classes, the performances, the individuals, perfectly portraying the human body through the motions of the realistic ballerinas. Degas was admired by his peers as a master of contre-lumi`ere, delicately rendering the nuances of light in his artwork. He had an incredible talent, growing into the wonderful impressionist we know him as today.
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