Happy Birthday to Edgas Degas
by David Makranasky
Edgar Degas was a French painter and sculptor, largely credited as a founder of the Impressionism movement of the mid-1800s. Though his work bore many of the characteristics of Impressionistic art, Degas preferred to refer to his style as Realism, and often degraded the art of other Impressionistic painters of the time. He specialized in painting contemporary life from the point of view of the laborer, and often chose unusual croppings or viewpoints for his work. Hat-makers and laundresses were common subjects, allowing him to present psychological paintings of working women who were otherwise unnoticed by those around them.
A particular focus of Degas' was dance and ballet, but he never strayed from his psychological, working-man style. The vast majority of Degas' paintings of dancers depict rehearsals and preparations for rehearsals, emphasizing their roles as professionals in a job. His juxtaposition of art and work closely paralleled his own situation as a working painter, a connection often highlighted by art historians. Yet Degas was clearly excited by the beauty of dance, even as he portrayed dancers as workers in a profession. He spent large expanses of time at the Paris Opera and Ballet, attempting to capture their classical beauty on the canvas. The ballet presented him with the opportunity to depict fluidity and suppleness of motion just as art was adjusting to the modern technologies of electricity and photography, guaranteeing that painting would continue as an appreciated art form in the modern era. The pale beauty of the ballerinas also allowed Degas to work in pastel, a style he returned to life in France. Many of his works featuring dancers, including "Danseuse Assise" and "L'etoile" can be found on display in art museums in Paris, St. Petersburg, and across America.