Edgar Degas Biography

Edgar Degas




Hilaire Germaine Edgar Degas was born on July 10, 1834 in Paris, France. Edgar was the oldest of five children; they were raised in the comfort of a well-to-do family. His father was a banker and the original spelling of their name was "de Gas." Degas was exposed to art by his father, who often took him to museums. Edgar graduated from Lycee Louis le Grand in 1852, after wining first prize in drawing.

Degas entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1855, and from 1856 through 1857 he made a study of Quattrocento painting while in Rome, Naples and Florence. His work comprised history paintings and primarily portraits. In 1864 he executed several portraits of his friend Manet. Degas then began to trek into the world of theatre and dance.

Upon the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Degas enlisted in the National Guard, where his defense of Paris left him little time for painting. During rifle training his eyesight was found to be defective, and for the rest of his life his eye problems were a constant worry to him. After the war, in 1872, Degas began an extended stay in New Orleans, Louisiana, where his brother René and a number of other relatives lived. Staying at the home of his Creole uncle, Michel Musson, Degas produced a number of works, many depicting family members.

Degas returned to Paris in 1873, which was followed by his father's death and while learning his brother René had amassed enormous debts. Degas was forced to depend on his artwork sales to provide for his family,  as a result he produced much of his greatest work during the decade beginning in 1874. Degas joined a group of young artists who were organizing an independent exhibiting society. The group became known as the "Impressionists," and between 1874 and 1886, they mounted eight art shows, known as the Impressionist Exhibitions. Degas took a leading role in organizing the exhibitions, and showed his work in most of them.

Degas never married, and he spent his last years of his life in Paris before dying there on September, 27, 1917.