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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas is often counted among the group of French artists collectively called Impressionists, but, in doing so, we find ourselves both stretching the definition of Impressionism, and the nature of the artist's work, as well. If Degas was an Impressionist, one would have to search hard in studying his work to see much influence from the group. His association with the Impressionist group was more social than artistic. His association with Impressionism itself was mostly one of disillusionment. The best that could be said regarding Degas's interest in Impressionism was that he "experimented" to some degree with some of it's pronouncements, with some of its color theories, and with some of its painting techniques, and not always all of these things in the same paintings either.   

At the Races, 1877-80, Edgar Degas
In age and temperament, he was much more closely aligned with Eduoard Manet whom he met in 1862. Manet, too, is sometimes referred to in the same breath with Impressionism, but despite his considerable influence upon Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, and others, he was mostly just an Impressionist when he wanted to be, which wasn't all that often. Degas shared another trait with Manet, in that they were both quite interested in depicting the recreational habits of their Parisian compatriots. Degas' artistic interests included the ballet, for which he is most famous, but also the music hall, the opera, the circus, and especially the race track. Though, given the fact he was born in 1834, and undoubtedly rode horses from time to time, he never owned one nor bet on them either.  In fact he was vehemently opposed to any form of gambling.  
In studying his track paintings, it is evident that Degas loved the sleek, graceful bodies of the horses though he claimed to have no feeling for how they moved.  In fact, he often exhibited great difficulty in "getting them right" as he put it.  His interests, like his fascination with the ballet, was not in the performance itself, but in those doing the performing in the moments just leading up to their performances. As much as the horses, it was the jockeys, those riding the horses, that captured his imagination.

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