The Work of Edgar Dagas

Founding father of the impressionist movement, Edgar Dagas romantically documented the lives of ballet dancers, workers and absinthe drinkers alike and innovated the expressive and colourful techniques of of the impressionist movement, although he rejected the term, preferring to be known as a realist.  The French artist was a spectacularly skilled draftsman and used vibrant colour and characterful line to describe the features, idiosyncrasies and unique movement of his subjects.   Beautifully describing the elegant gestures of ballerinas he payed equal attention in depicting the dark psyche of absinthe drinkers, female nudes and individual portraits, some of which are regarded as the finest in the history of art.   Classically trained, Degas had ambitions as a history painter as fitted his academic education, envisioning a path that would see him create epic narrative paintings but as he grew older he became a passionate observer of contemporary life and recorded it in a way that uniquely captured the spirit of his time.  The gravity his technique lends to scenes of intimate moments during rehearsal, the observers view of figures in a pub or on a racecourse makes his work uniquely touching and includes his viewers as unnoticed participators in the scene rather than detached audiences or voyeurs.  There is a stark sense of isolation and detachment in much of his work.  His figures lost in contemplation, symbolic of modern psyche and isolation despite their opulent, richly ornamented surroundings.  As his success grew Degas was able to indulge his passion for artists he admired and collected work by El Greco, Van Gogh, Manet and Cezanne among others.  These dramatic, technical and theatrical influences clearly helped him to develop a technique that exceeded that of other impressionists preoccupied by mark making alone.  He was a passionate photographer, constantly striving to find new ways of recording that which inspired him and embracing new methods as he discovered them.  His preoccupation with social isolation, evident in his work was routed in his belief that to be an artist was to be alone and this, along with his controversial views and anti-Semitic tendencies meant that he lost many of the friends that he made and never really appreciated the relationships the adulation of his work afforded him.  Renoir is said to have remarked “What a creature he was, that Degas! All his friends had to leave him; I was one of the last to go, but even I couldn’t stay till the end.”  His legacy, however has survived and his artistic influence and vibrant artistic sensitivity far outlive his flaws or difficulties as a person.

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