1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Degas, Hilaire Germain Edgard
DEGAS, HILAIRE GERMAIN EDGARD (1834– ), French painter, was born in Paris on the 19th of July 1834. Entering in 1855 the École des Beaux Arts, he early developed independence of artistic outlook, studying under Lamothe. He first exhibited in the Salon of 1865, contributing a “War in the middle ages,” a work executed in pastel. To this medium he was ever faithful, using it for some of his best work. In 1866 his “Steeplechase” revealed him as a painter of the racecourse and of all the most modern aspects of life and of Parisian society, treated in an extremely original manner. He subsequently exhibited in 1867 “Family Portraits,” and in 1868 a portrait of a dancer in the “Ballet of La Source.” In 1869 and 1870 he restricted himself to portraits; but thenceforward he abandoned the Salons and attached himself to the Impressionists. With Manet and Monet he took the lead of the new school at its first exhibition in 1874, and repeatedly contributed to these exhibitions (in 1876, 1878, 1879 and 1880). In 1868 he had shown his first study of a dancer, and in numerous pastels he proclaimed himself the painter of the ballet, representing its figurantes in every attitude with more constant aim at truth than grace. Several of his works may be seen at the Luxembourg Gallery, to which they were bequeathed, among a collection of impressionist pictures, by M. Caillebotte. In 1880 Degas showed his powers of observation in a set of “Portraits of Criminals,” and he attempted modelling in a “Dancer,” in wax. He afterwards returned to his studies of the sporting world, exhibiting in December 1884 at the Petit Gallery two views of “Races” which had a great success, proving the increasing vogue of the artist among collectors. He is ranked with Manet as the leader of the “impressionist school.” At the eighth Impressionist Exhibition, in 1886, Degas continued his realistic studies of modern life, showing drawings of the nude, of workwomen, and of jockeys. Besides his pastels and his paintings of genre and portraits—among these, several likenesses of Manet—Degas also handled his favourite subjects in etching and in aquatint; and executed several lithographs of “Singers at Cafés-concert,” of “Ballet-girls,” and indeed of every possible subject of night-life and incidents behind the scenes. His work is to be seen not only at the Luxembourg but in many of the great private collections in Paris, in England and America. In the Centenary Exhibition of 1900 he exhibited “The Interior of a Cotton-Broker’s Office at New Orleans” (belonging to the Museum at Pau) and “The Rehearsal.”
See also G. Moore, “Degas, the Painter of Modern Life,” Magazine of Art (1890); J. K. Huysmans, Certains (Paris, 1889); G. Geffroy, La Vie Artistique (3e Série, Paris, 1894).