Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

1834 - 1917

Degas specialised in scenes of contemporary life, including dancers, entertainers and women at their toilette. His mastery of technique was superb, and he experimented with various media including pastel. Degas remains a popular artist today; his changing styles and preoccupations are well represented in the Collection.

Portrait of Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas
Detail from Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Self-portrait
© The Art Archive/Musée d'Orsay, Paris/Gianni Dagli Orti 


Degas exhibited from the beginning with the Impressionists in Paris. He was able to follow an independent path; his private income meant that he was not forced to attract buyers. He spent most of his life in Paris, abandoning his study of law in 1855 to train with the academic painter Louis Lamothe. In 1855 he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He was in Rome 1856/7, and subsequently often travelled to Italy. He deeply admired Ingres, but soon developed an Impressionist approach, under the influence of Manet, whom he knew well.

Degas was a reclusive man, though famed as a brilliant conversationalist. He practised the new technique of photography, which perhaps affected his approach to composition. He was a sculptor as well as a painter, especially in his later years when deteriorating sight troubled him and he was forced to work in the studio close to the model. His later graphic works are mostly in pastel.