Edgar Degas (July 19, 1834 - September 27, 1917) was a French painter and sculptor.
Born Edgar Hilaire Germain de Gas in Paris, France, he was the oldest of five children. Madame de Gas belonged to a French family that settled in America. Degas was fond of his mother and her death in 1847 was a deep personal tragedy for degas. His father, a banker, encouraged his son’s artistic inclination. He received a classical education at Lycee Loius-le-Grand from 1845 to 1852.
In 1852 he transformed a room from the family home in to a studio and worked under Felix Joseph Barrias. He made copies of the old masters in the louvre and studied the prints of Dürer, Mantegna, Goya and Rembrant. In 1854 he studied with Louis Lamothe who was a disciple of Ingres for whom Degas would retain great respect. In 1855 Degas began study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but found the course to unprofitable and too restricting. Degas preferred home study of classical tradition. He was also able through hospitable family members to make regular trips to Italy during this period. He studied hard making copies of pictures and filling sketchbooks.
In 1859 Degas opened a studio in Paris and portraiture and historical subjects occupied his time. Degas finally abandoned the historical genre in 1866, a crucial decision due to a number of factors. In 1862 Degas met Manet who was interested in themes from modern life in preference to traditional subject matter. Degas also met novelist Edmond Duranty a passionate believer in realism who wanted to remove the barrier between art and life. Degas was a regular at cafe Guerbois where many artists associated with Impressionism would meet.
Degas' innovative composition, influenced by the Japanese woodblock prints called Ukiyo-e and photography, his skillful drawing, and perceptive analysis of movement made him one of the masters of progressive art in the late 19th century. He is especially known for his paintings of ballet dancers and other women, as well as of race horses. He is often considered an Impressionist, but his work sometimes goes more in classical and realist directions, other times to Romanticism.
In Montmartre, he had an affair with one of his models, Suzanne Valadon. Degas would encourage her efforts to paint and she would eventually become one of the best known female artists of the day.
Degas lived with relatives in New Orleans, Louisiana 1872-1873. One of the paintings he did there and then brought back to France, The Cotton Exchange at New Orleans (http://www.hayalevi.com/cgi-bin/sanatgalerisidetay.asp?resim=153) got him favorable attention, and was his only work purchased by a museum (that of Pau) during his lifetime.
In the 1880s, when his eyesight began to fail, Degas shifted his talent to sculpture and pastel that did not require such acute vision.
He died in Paris and is buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre, Paris, France.
Today, paintings by Degas can sell for more than US$16 million.