Edgar Degas came from an aristocratic family and was classically trained in art with huge respect for the works of the old masters. Although he played a pivotal role in the Impressionist movement, his work was slightly more independent in feel than the works of the rest of the group. His snap shot composition technique and work in mixed media, along with his fascination with the effects of artificial light, established his painting as truly unique. Degas’ style was spontaneous and full of movement. He was interested in how spontaneous a scene appeared when the composition was cropped to create a close-up view, often abruptly, cutting off the edges of the composition or even parts of the focal point. Unlike other impressionists such as Monet, Degas was more interested in the effects of artificial light and painting en plein air didn’t interest him. Degas’ subject matter, like other impressionists, was concentrated on the fleeting moment, however the content of his paintings were unique and individual. Fascinated with certain contemporary culture he began to paint racehorses and figures in motion particularly ballet dancers – subject matters previously unseen. His unique style and choice subject matter set Degas apart from other 19th Century artists.
The Dancing Class
The Dancing Class is on of Degas’ most famous paintings which was exhibited in the first impressionist exhibition. This is one of many of his paintings on ballet dancers. Unlike many other artists work on the same subject matter, Degas focuses on the informal scene of a training session. It is a complex arrangement of dancers who are mostly seen taking a break from their rigorous training schedule. Only one dancer is seen practicing her step sunder the instruction of the famous teacher Jules Perrot, who was also a famous dancer in his youth. Degas captures his dancers, who are in the opera in the Rue le Peletier, like no other artist. Rather than show people at their best, like Renoir did, Degas adopted a sense of spontaneity by capturing a very unimportant moment. He creates an impression of a quick glance into the rehearsal room. The girl sitting on a piano scratches her back, a typical Degas pose, while another girl adjusts her earring. It is the attention to detail, unlike Monet’s work which also helps Degas stand out from his peers. Example of this would be the watering can at the foot of the piano and a little dog who presumably accompanies one of the dancers. This as a painting has a subject matter which was rarely investigated prior to his time which, in itself, establishes Degas as unique.
Degas composition is a wonderful exploration of a spatial depth. The format has been altered several times by the artist, adding and subtracting figures as well changing poses which Degas enhances the sense of depth in this large space by use of the wooden floor boards to create natural perspective. This is further strengthened by the uses of aerial perspective as the smaller figures in the background show much less detail than the ones in the foreground. Both techniques used in the composition show Degas had an advanced knowledge of perspective which adds a sense of realism to his paintings, something many impressionists could not achieve.
Degas’ technique and style go hand in hand is this painting. A technique not used by other artists was the tiny details included in his colour scheme, such as the red splashes throughout this painting to draw the viewer’s eye directly into the painting. The snap shot technique he was famous for is also visible her, cutting off part of the figure of the dancer on the right to create a sense of spontaneity. Degas often reuses dance poses. An example of this is the dancer practicing her steps, the same dancer who appears in Ballet Rehearsal on Stage. Edgar Degas appealed to audiences and stood out from his fellow impressionists. The informality of his work had a fresh appeal for viewers. Typical impressionist techniques, such as impasto of Jules Perrot’s jacket and wet paint on wet paint of the dancers skirt were used by Degas. Although he had, like Monet, a liberal use of black paint he didn’t paint en plein air and he also use mixed media. These techniques were unusual for an impressionist and was just another one of the contributing factors which made him individual during the 19th Century. Degas’ unique style is defined by mixed media, cropped edges and unconventional viewpoints: all of which are visible in this painting. Degas’ style was hugely influenced by photography and he also became interested in Japanese prints. Each of these led to him to experiment with unusual visual angles and asymmetrical compositions. Unlike Monet, degas painted with artificial light which led to strong contrasts in light like Monet, and, lines and outlines like Ingres’ work. Another aspect of his style is his use of colour to create a sense of movement. All of these styles and techniques are visible in the painting but also make Degas one of the most memorable impressionists as his individuality set him apart from others.
L’Absinthe is another infamous painting by Degas one which, like other impressionist found about their work, was not warmly greeted with the enthusiasm that he had hoped for. The painting portrays two figures seated in a Parisian café. The woman is dressed in dreary tones of brown and beige, sits with a dull glazed expression while in front of her sits a glass of absinthe. It is a depressing reflection of the working class of the time. Degas was often criticised for his unfeeling portrayal of people in paintings. L’Absinthe is a perfect example of this, the subject matter frowned upon, not seen as a fit subject for an artist. It is this individuality with regard to his subject matter which set Degas apart from many of his impressionist friends and painters. It is one of the most revolutionary paintings of the time when considering the composition. Figures are placed in the top right of the picture while the rest of the painting is filled with large flat shapes of the tables. It emphasises the spontaneity of the painting. A technique widely used by Degas, and also seen in this painting, is the dramatic cropping. The man’s pipe, his arm and the ends of the tables are all cropped. A technique used to highlight the gloomy redundant atmosphere in the painting is the strong contrast of colours. His strong contrasts seem to be hugely influenced by Monet’ work. Darker outlines and the surrounding of the woman separate Degas’ style from that of other impressionists. Degas also used a technique to blur his paint, this would have been done by painting wet paint on top of wet paint. An example of this is the fluid loose brush work seen in the features and dress of the character.