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Deutsch: 3. Drittel 19. Jh.
English: 3rd third of 19th century
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Edgar Degas (19 July 1834 – 27 September 1917), born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, was a French artist famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist. A superb draughtsman, he is especially identified with the subject of the dance, and over half his works depict dancers. These display his mastery in the depiction of movement, as do his racecourse subjects and female nudes. His portraits are noteable for their psychological complexity and depiction of human isolation.
Early in his career, his ambition was to be a history painter, a calling for which he was well prepared by his rigourous academic training and close study of classic art. In his early thirties, he changed course, and by bringing the traditional methods of a history painter to bear on contemporary subject matter, he became a classical painter of modern life.
Degas was born in Paris, France, the eldest of five children of Célestine Musson De Gas and Augustin De Gas, a banker. The family was moderately wealthy. His mother died when Degas was thirteen, after which his father and grandfather were the main influences on his early life. At age eleven, Degas (in adulthood he abandoned the more pretentious spelling of the family name) began his schooling with enrolment in the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, graduating in 1853 with a baccalauréat in literature.
Degas began to paint early in his life. By eighteen, he had turned a room in his home into an artist's studio, and in 1853 he registered as a copyist in the Louvre. His father, however, expected him to go to law school. Degas duly registered at the Faculty of Law of the University of Paris in November 1853, but made little effort at his studies there. In 1855, Degas met Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, whom he revered, and whose advice he never forgot: "Draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from life and from memory, and you will become a good artist." In April of that same year, Degas received admission to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he studied drawing with Louis Lamothe, under whose guidance he flourished, following the style of Ingres. In July 1856, Degas travelled to Italy, where he would remain for the next three years. In 1858, while staying with his aunt's family in Naples, he made the first studies for his early masterpiece, The Bellelli Family. He also drew and painted copies after Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and other artists of the Renaissance, often selecting from an altarpiece an individual head which he treated as a portrait By 1860 Degas had made more than seven hundred copies of works including Italian Renaissance and French Classical art.
Upon his return to France in 1859, Degas moved into a Paris studio large enough to permit him to begin painting The Bellelli Family—an imposing canvas he intended for exhibition in the Salon, although it remained unfinished until 1867. He also began work on several history paintings: Alexander and Bucephalus and The Daughter of Jephthah in 1859–60; Sémiramis Building Babylon in 1860; and Young Spartans around 1860. In 1861, Degas visited his childhood friend Paul Valpinçon in Normandy, and made the earliest of his many studies of horses. He exhibited at the Salon for the first time in 1865, when the jury accepted his painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages, which attracted little attention. Although he exhibited annually in the Salon during the next five years, he submitted no more history paintings, and his Steeplechase—The Fallen Jockey (Salon of 1866) signalled his growing commitment to contemporary subject matter. The change in his art was influenced primarily by the example of Edouard Manet, whom Degas had met in 1864 (while both were copying the same Velázquez portrait in the Louvre, according to a story that may be apocryphal).
At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Degas enlisted in the National Guard, where his defence 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 in a house on Esplanade Avenue, Degas produced a number of works, many depicting family members. One of Degas' New Orleans works, depicting a scene at The Cotton Exchange at New Orleans, garnered favourable attention back in France, and was his only work purchased by a museum (that of Pau) during his lifetime.
Degas returned to Paris in 1873. The following year his father died, and in the subsequent settling of the estate it was discovered that Degas' brother René had amassed enormous business debts. To preserve the family name, Degas was forced to sell his house and a collection of art he had inherited. Dependant for the first time in his life on sales of his artwork for income, he produced much of his greatest work during the decade beginning in 1874. By now thoroughly disenchanted with the Salon, Degas joined forces with a group of young artists who were intent upon organising an independant exhibiting society. The first of their exhibitions, which were quickly dubbed Impressionist Exhibitions, was in 1874. The Impressionists subsequently held seven additional shows, the last in 1886. Degas took a leading role in organising the exhibitions, and showed his work in all but one of them, despite his persistent conflicts with others in the group. He had little in common with Monet and the other landscape painters, whom he mocked for painting outdoors. Conservative in his social attitudes, he abhorred the scandal created by the exhibitions, as well as the publicity and advertising that his colleagues sought. He bitterly rejected the label Impressionist that the press had created and popularised, and his insistence on including non-Impressionist artists such as Jean-Louis Forain and Jean-François Raffaëlli in their exhibitions created rancour within the group, contributing to their eventual disbanding in 1886.
As his financial situation improved through sales of his own work, he was able to indulge his passion for collecting works by artists he admired: old masters such as El Greco and such contemporaries as Manet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. Three artists he idolised, Ingres, Delacroix, and Daumier, were especially well represented in his collection.
In the late 1880s, Degas also developed a passion for photography. He photographed many of his friends, often by lamplight, as in his double portrait of Renoir and Mallarmê. Other photographs, depicting dancers and nudes, were used for reference in some of Degas' drawings and paintings.
As the years passed, Degas became isolated, due in part to his belief that a painter could have no personal life. The Dreyfus Affair controversy brought his anti-Semitic leanings to the fore and he broke with all his Jewish friends. His argumentative nature was deplored by Renoir, who said of him: "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."
Although he is known to have been working in pastel as late as the end of 1907, and is believed to have continued making sculpture as late as 1910, he apparently ceased working in 1912, when the impending demolition of his longtime residence on the rue Victor Massé forced a wrenching move to quarters on the boulevard de Clichy. He never married and spent the last years of his life, nearly blind, restlessly wandering the streets of Paris before dying in 1917.
Degas is often identified as an Impressionist, an understandable but insufficient description. Impressionism originated in the 1860s and 1870s and grew, in part, from the realism of such painters as Courbet and Corot. The Impressionists painted the realities of the world around them using bright, "dazzling" colours, concentrating primarily on the effects of light, and hoping to infuse their scenes with immediacy.
Technically, Degas differs from the Impressionists in that he "never adopted the Impressionist colour fleck", and he continually belittled their practice of painting en plein air. "He was often as anti-impressionist as the critics who reviewed the shows", according to art historian Carol Armstrong; as Degas himself explained, "no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing." Nonetheless, he is described more accurately as an Impressionist than as a member of any other movement. His scenes of Parisian life, his off-centre compositions, his experiments with colour and form, and his friendship with several key Impressionist artists—most notably Mary Cassatt and Edouard Manet—all relate him intimately to the Impressionist movement.
Degas' style reflects his deep respect for the old masters (he was an enthusiastic copyist well into middle age) and his great admiration for Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Eugène Delacroix. He was also a collector of Japanese prints, whose compositional principles influenced his work, as did the vigourous realism of popular illustrators such as Daumier and Gavarni. Although famous for horses and dancers, Degas began with conventional historical paintings such as The Young Spartans, in which his gradual progress towards a less idealised treatment of the figure is already apparent. During his early career, Degas also painted portraits of individuals and groups; an example of the latter is The Bellelli Family (c.1858–67), a brilliantly composed and psychologically poignant portrayal of his aunt, her husband, and their children. In this painting, as in The Young Spartans and many later works, Degas was drawn to the tensions present between men and women. In his early paintings, Degas already evidenced the mature style that he would later develop more fully by cropping subjects awkwardly and by choosing unusual viewpoints.
By the late 1860s, Degas had shifted from his initial forays into history painting to an original observation of contemporary life. Racecourse scenes provided an opportunity to depict horses and their riders in a modern context. He began to paint women at work, milliners and laundresses. Mlle. Fiocre in the Ballet La Source, exhibited in the Salon of 1868, was his first major work to introduce a subject with which he would become especially identified, dancers.
In many subsequent paintings dancers were shown backstage or in rehearsal, emphasising their status as professionals doing a job. It is these dancers who have determined Degas's popularity to this day, from 1870 he increasingly painted ballet subjects. Amongst other reasons the ballet series was easy to sell and seeing as his brother's debts had left the family bankrupt, Degas needed money. Degas began to paint café life as well. He urged other artists to paint "real life" instead of traditional mythological or historical paintings, and the few literary scenes he painted were modern and of highly ambiguous content. For example, Interior (which has also been called The Rape) has presented a conundrum to art historians in search of a literary source; internal evidence suggests that it may be based on a scene from Thérèse Raquin.
As his subject matter changed, so, too, did Degas' technique. The dark palette that bore the influence of Dutch painting gave way to the use of vivid colours and bold brushstrokes. Paintings such as Place de la Concorde read as "snapshots," freezing moments of time to portray them accurately, imparting a sense of movement. The lack of colour in the 1874 Ballet Rehearsal on Stage and the 1876 The Ballet Instructor can be said to link with his interest in the new technique of photography. The changes to his palette, brushwork, and sense of composition all evidence the influence that both the Impressionist movement and modern photography, with its spontaneous images and off-kilter angles, had on his work.
Blurring the distinction between portraiture and genre pieces, he painted his bassoonist friend, Désiré Dihau, in The Orchestra of the Opera (1868-69) as one of fourteen musicians in an orchestra pit, viewed as though by a member of the audience. Above the musicians can be seen only the legs and tutus of the dancers onstage, their figures cropped by the edge of the painting. Art historian Charles Stuckey has compared the viewpoint to that of a distracted spectator at a ballet, and says that "it is Degas' fascination with the depiction of movement, including the movement of a spectator's eyes as during a random glance, that is properly speaking 'Impressionist'."
Degas' mature style is distinguished by conspicuously unfinished passages, even in otherwise tightly rendered paintings. He frequently blamed his eye troubles for his inability to finish, an explanation that met with some scepticism from colleagues and collectors who reasoned, as Stuckey explains, that "his pictures could hardly have been executed by anyone with inadequate vision." The artist provided another clue when he described his predilection "to begin a hundred things and not finish one of them," and was in any case notoriously reluctant to consider a painting complete.
His interest in portraiture led him to study carefully the ways in which a person's social stature or form of employment may be revealed by their physiognomy, posture, dress, and other attributes. In his 1879 Portraits, At the Stock Exchange, he portrayed a group of Jewish businessmen with a hint of anti-Semitism. In 1881 he exhibited two pastels, Criminal Physiognomies, that depicted juvenile gang members recently convicted of murder in the "Abadie Affair". Degas had attended their trial with sketchbook in hand, and his numerous drawings of the defendants reveal his interest in the atavistic features thought by some nineteenth century scientists to be evidence of innate criminality. In his paintings of dancers and laundresses, he reveals their occupations not only by their dress and activities but also by their body type. His ballerinas exhibit an athletic physicality, while his laundresses are heavy and solid.
By the later 1870s Degas had mastered not only the traditional medium of oil on canvas, but pastel as well. The dry medium, which he applied in complex layers and textures, enabled him more easily to reconcile his facility for line with a growing interest in expressive colour.
In the mid-1870s he also returned to the medium of etching, which he had neglected for ten years, and began experimenting with less traditional printmaking media—lithographs and experimental monotypes. He was especially fascinated by the effects produced by monotype, and frequently reworked the printed images with pastel.
These changes in media engendered the paintings that Degas would produce in later life. Degas began to draw and paint women drying themselves with towels, combing their hair, and bathing (see: After the Bath). The strokes that model the form are scribbled more freely than before; backgrounds are simplified.
The meticulous naturalism of his youth gave way to an increasing abstraction of form. Except for his characteristically brilliant draftsmanship and obsession with the figure, the pictures created in this late period of his life bear little superficial resemblance to his early paintings. Ironically, it is these paintings, created late in his life, and after the heyday of the Impressionist movement, that most obviously use the coloristic techniques of Impressionism.
For all the stylistic evolution, certain features of Degas's work remained the same throughout his life. He always painted indoors, preferring to work in his studio, either from memory or using models. The figure remained his primary subject; his few landscapes were produced from memory or imagination. It was not unusual for him to repeat a subject many times, varying the composition or treatment. He was a deliberative artist whose works, as Andrew Forge has written, "were prepared, calculated, practiced, developed in stages. They were made up of parts. The adjustment of each part to the whole, their linear arrangement, was the occasion for infinite reflection and experiment." Degas himself explained, "In art, nothing should look like chance, not even movement".
Degas, who believed that "the artist must live alone, and his private life must remain unknown", lived an outwardly uneventful life. In company he was known for his wit, which could often be cruel. He was chraacterised as an "old curmudgeon" by the novelist George Moore, and he deliberately cultivated his reputation as a misanthropic bachelor. Profoundly conservative in his political opinions, he opposed all social reforms and found little to admire in such technological advances as the telephone. He fired a model upon learning she was Protestant. Although Degas painted a number of Jewish subjects from 1865 to 1870, his anti-Semitism became apparent by the mid 1870s. His 1879 painting At The Bourse is widely regarded as strongly anti-Semitic, with the facial features of the banker taken directly from the anti-Semitic cartoons rampant in Paris at the time.
The Dreyfus Affair, which divided Paris from the 1890s to the early 1900s, further intensified his anti-Semitism. By the mid 1890s, he had broken off relations with all of his Jewish friends, publicly disavowed his previous friendships with Jewish artists, and refused to use models who he believed might be Jewish. He remained an outspoken anti-Semite and member of the anti-Semitic "Anti-Dreyfusards" until his death.
During his life, public reception of Degas' work ranged from admiration to contempt. As a promising artist in the conventional mode, Degas had a number of paintings accepted in the Salon between 1865–1870. These works received praise from Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and the critic, Castagnary.
Degas soon joined forces with the Impressionists, however, and rejected the rigid rules, judgements, and elitism of the Salon—just as the Salon and general public initially rejected the experimentalism of the Impressionists.
Degas's work was controversial, but was generally admired for its draftsmanship. His La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, or Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, which he displayed at the sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881, was probably his most controversial piece; some critics decried what they thought its "appalling ugliness" while others saw in it a "blossoming." The suite of nudes Degas exhibited in the eighth Impressionist Exhibition in 1886 produced "the most concentrated body of critical writing on the artist during his lifetime. ... The overall reaction was positive and laudatory."
Recognised as an important artist by the end of his life, Degas is now considered "one of the founders of Impressionism". Though his work crossed many stylistic boundaries, his involvement with the other major figures of Impressionism and their exhibitions, his dynamic paintings and sketches of everyday life and activities, and his bold colour experiments, served to finally tie him to the Impressionist movement as one of its greatest early artists.
His paintings, pastels, drawings, and sculpture—most of the latter were not intended for exhibition, and were discovered only after his death—are on prominent display in many museums.
After his death in 1917, more than 150 sculptural works were found in his studio, of which the subjects mainly consisted of race horses and dancers. Degas scholars have agreed that the sculptures were not created as aids to painting. His first and only showing of sculpture during his life took place in 1881 when he exhibited The Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer, only shown again in 1920; the rest of the sculptural works remained private until an exhibition after his death in 1918. Sculpture was not so much in response to his failing eyesight as one more strand to his continuing endeavour to explore different media. Wherever the possibility seemed available, he explored ways of linking graphic art and oil painting, drawing and pastel, sculpture and photography. Degas assigned the same significance to sculpture as to drawing: "Drawing is a way of thinking, modelling another."
Although Degas had no formal pupils, he greatly influenced several important painters, most notably Jean-Louis Forain, Mary Cassatt, and Walter Sickert; his greatest admirer may have been Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.[
Realism in the visual arts is a style that depicts the actuality of what the eyes can see. The term is used in different senses in art history; it may mean the same as illusionism, the representation of subjects with visual mimesis or verisimilitude, or may mean an emphasis on the actuality of subjects, depicting them without idealisation, and not omitting their sordid aspects. Works may be realist in either of these senses, or both. Use of the two senses can be confusing, but depending on context the second sense is perhaps more common.
Realism as a tendency in 19th century art was related to similar movements in the theatre, literature and opera. All emphasised the depiction of everyday subjects, but by no means always discarding classical, Romantic or sentimental approaches to their treatment. The movement began in the 1850s in France. One of Gustave Courbet's most important works is A Burial at Ornans, 1849-1850, a canvas recording an event which he witnessed in September 1848. Courbet's painting of the funeral of his grand uncle became the first grand statement of the Realist style.
Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that began as a loose association of
Paris-based artists whose independant exhibitions brought them to prominence in the 1870s
and 1880s. The name of the movement is derived from the title of a Claude Monet work,
Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant), which provoked the critic Louis Leroy to
coin the term in a satiric review published in Le Charivari.
Characteristics of Impressionist paintings include visible brush strokes, open composition,
emphasis on light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage
of time), ordinary subject matter, the inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human
perception and experience, and unusual visual angles. The emergence of Impressionism in the
visual arts was soon followed by analogous movements in other media which became known as
Impressionist music and Impressionist literature.
Impressionism also describes art created in this style, but outside of the late 19th century
Radicals in their time, early Impressionists broke the rules of academic painting. They
began by giving colours, freely brushed, primacy over line, drawing inspiration from the
work of painters such as Eugène Delacroix. They also took the act of painting out of the
studio and into the modern world. Previously, still lifes and portraits as well as
landscapes had usually been painted indoors. The Impressionists found that they could
capture the momentary and transient effects of sunlight by painting en plein air. Painting
realistic scenes of modern life, they emphasised vivid overall effects rather than details.
They used short, "broken" brush strokes of pure and unmixed colour, not smoothly blended, as
was customary, in order to achieve the effect of intense colour vibration.
Although the rise of Impressionism in France happened at a time when a number of other
painters, including the Italian artists known as the Macchiaioli, and Winslow Homer in the
United States, were also exploring plein-air painting, the Impressionists developed new
techniques that were specific to the movement. Encompassing what its adherents argued was a
different way of seeing, it was an art of immediacy and movement, of candid poses and
compositions, of the play of light expressed in a bright and varied use of colour.
The public, at first hostile, gradually came to believe that the Impressionists had captured
a fresh and original vision, even if it did not receive the approval of the art critics and
By re-creating the sensation in the eye that views the subject, rather than recreating the
subject, and by creating a welter of techniques and forms, Impressionism became a precursor
seminal to various movements in painting which would follow, including Neo-Impressionism,
Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism.
Painting is a mode of expression and the forms are numerous. Drawing, composition or
abstraction and other aesthetics may serve to manifest the expressive and conceptual
intention of the practitioner. Paintings can be naturalistic and representational (as in a
still life or landscape painting), photographic, abstract, be loaded with narrative content,
symbolism, emotion or be political in nature. Painting is the practice of applying paint,
pigment, colour or other medium to a surface (support base). In art, the term describes both
the act and the result, which is called a painting. Paintings may have for their support
such surfaces as walls, paper, canvas, wood, glass, lacquer, clay or concrete. Paintings may
be decorated with gold leaf, and some modern paintings incorporate other materials including
sand, clay, and scraps of paper. A portion of the history of painting in both Eastern and
Western art is dominated by spiritual motifs and ideas; examples of this kind of painting
range from artwork depicting mythological figures on pottery to Biblical scenes rendered on
the interior walls and ceiling of The Sistine Chapel, to scenes from the life of Buddha or
other scenes of eastern religious origin.
Among the continuing and current directions in painting at the beginning of the 21st century
are Monochrome painting, Hard-edge painting, Geometric abstraction, Appropriation,
Hyperrealism, Photorealism, Expressionism, Minimalism, Lyrical Abstraction, Pop Art, Op Art,
Abstract Expressionism, Colour Field painting, Neo-expressionism, Collage, Intermedia
painting, Assemblage painting, Computer art painting, Postmodern painting, Neo-Dada
painting, Shaped canvas painting, environmental mural painting, traditional figure painting,
Landscape painting, Portrait painting, and paint-on-glass animation.
Developments in Eastern painting historically parallel those in Western painting, in
general, a few centuries earlier. African art, Islamic art, Indian art, Chinese art, and
Japanese art each had significant influence on Western art, and, eventually, vice-versa.
The oldest known paintings are at the Grotte Chauvet in France, claimed by some historians
to be about 32,000 years old. They are engraved and painted using red ochre and black
pigment and show horses, rhinoceros, lions, buffalo, mammoth or humans often hunting.
However the earliest evidence of painting has been discovered in two rock-shelters in Arnhem
Land, in northern Australia. In the lowest layer of material at these sites there are used
pieces of ochre estimated to be 60,000 years old. Archaeologists have also found a fragment
of rock painting preserved in a limestone rock-shelter in the Kimberley region of
North-Western Australia, that is dated 40 000 years old. There are examples of cave
paintings all over the world—in France, Spain, Portugal, China, Australia, India etc.
In Western cultures oil painting and watercolor painting are the best known media, with rich
and complex traditions in style and subject matter. In the East, ink and colour ink
historically predominated the choice of media with equally rich and complex traditions.
Different types of paint are usually identified by the medium that the pigment is suspended
or embedded in, which determines the general working characteristics of the paint, such as
viscosity, miscibility, solubility, drying time, etc.
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