The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage∞ Edgar Degas 1874 Oil on Canvas Metropolitan Museum of Art New York
“In painting you must give the idea of the true by means of the false.”
Edgar Degas (b. July 19, 1834) 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.
Artist. Edgar Degas was born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar de Gas on July 19, 1834, in Paris, France. His father, Auguste, was a banker, and his mother, Celestine, an American from New Orleans. Their family were members of the middle class with nobler pretensions. For many years the Degas family spelled their name “de Gas”; the preposition “de” suggesting a land-owning aristocratic background which they did not actually have. As an adult, Edgar Degas reverted back to the original spelling. Degas came from a very musical household; his mother was an amateur opera singer and his father occasionally arranged for musicians to give recitals in their home. Degas attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, a prestigious and rigorous boys’ secondary school where he received a classical education.
Degas also displayed a remarkable skill for drawing and painting as a child, a talent encouraged by his father, who was a knowledgeable art lover. In 1853 at the age of 18, Degas received permission to “copy” at the Louvre in Paris. (During the 19th century, aspiring artists developed their technique by attempting to replicate the works of the masters.) Degas produced several impressive copies of Raphael as well as studying the work of more contemporary painters such as Ingres and Delacroix. In 1855 he gained admission into the Ecole Des Beaux-Art in Paris. However, after only one year of study, Degas left school to spend three years traveling, painting and studying in Italy. He painted painstaking copies of the works of the great Italian renaissance painters Michelangelo and da Vinci, developing a reverence for classical linearity that remained a distinguishing feature of even his most modern paintings.
Upon returning to Paris in 1859, Degas set out to make a name for himself as a painter. Taking a traditional approach, he painted large portraits of family members and grand historical scenes such as The Daughter of Jephtha, Semiramis Building Babylon and Scene of War in the Middle Ages. Degas submitted these works to the all-powerful Salon, a group of French artists and teachers who presided over public exhibitions. It had very rigid and conventional ideas of beauty and proper artistic form, and received Degas’ paintings with measured indifference. In 1862, Degas met fellow painter Edouard Manet at the Louvre, and the pair quickly developed a friendly rivalry. Degas grew to share Manet’s disdain for the presiding art establishment as well as his belief that artists needed to turn to more modern techniques and subject matter.
By 1868, Degas had become a prominent member of a group of avant-garde artists including Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley, who gathered frequently at the Café Guerbois to discuss ways in which artists could engage the modern world. Their meetings coincided with tumultuous times in the history of France. In July 1870, the Franco-Prussian War broke out and the highly nationalistic Degas volunteered for the French National Guard. At the war’s conclusion in 1871, the infamous Paris Commune seized control of the capital for two terrifying months before Adolphe Thiers reestablished the Third Republic in a bloody civil war. Degas largely avoided the tumult of the Paris Commune by taking an extended trip to visit relatives in New Orleans.Biography.com (Degas)