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Edgar Degas: Ballerinas and Complex Portraits

About the Artist

It was planned that he would become a history painter, but before he became famous, Edgar Degas changed his mind and decided to work in another style. Today, the artist is well-known for his depictions of ballerinas and psychologically complex portraits (Edgar Degas: The Complete Works). Degas was born in France in 1834 into a wealthy family (Edgar Degas: The Complete Works). His parents were in the capacity of affording their child education at a prestigious secondary school. The success of Edgar as a painter is partially because he was privileged to attain quality education. During his time at the school, he committed himself to art despite studying literature as his major. After graduating, Degas wanted to continue to develop as an artist, but his parents had him enroll in a law school (Edgar Degas: The Complete Works). Eventually, however, Edgar applied to the École des Beaux-Arts and spent several years elevating his mastery.

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Although the majority of his works depict female ballerinas, it would be inaccurate to label Degas as an artist who focused on female personalities. Edgar’s most prominent skill was the elaborate presentation of movement. The artist also worked on several history paintings and portraits. In fact, Edgar’s training process was comprised of copying the works of other famous painters, such as Michelangelo and Raphael (Edgar Degas: The Complete Works). However, instead of duplicating the whole pieces, Degas only focused on particular aspects or items in works. For instance, Edgar could take one person from the original painting and make it an individual portrait. He was a successful artist, although some of his works were controversial and received criticism. The next part of the paper will analyze The Ballet Class, which Edgar painted between 1871 and 1874.

The Ballet Class

Degas often visited the Paris opera house, which is why most of his works are related to ballet. Edgar preferred when ballerinas are free of tension, and therefore, depicted performers in a relaxed setting when they were rehearsing (“Edgar Degas: The Ballet Class”). Commissioned by the French opera singer Jean-Baptiste Faure, The Ballet Class was the manifestation of Edgar’s skills in Impressionism (Schenkel). The scene looks as if it was captured from an elevated position, the style which is called heightened perspective.

The composition shows many ballerinas taking part in a rehearsal. In the background, there are several girls standing close to each other, watching as several others are following the directions of the master, Jules Perrot, who was a close friend of the artist (“Edgar Degas: The Ballet Class”). The foreground is occupied by two girls, one of which is sitting on the piano. The other ballerina is standing ungracefully to reinforce the fact that the girls are relaxed. Her head is slightly turned to the right to indicate that she is aware of the viewer’s presence. Therefore, it can be suggested that the scene is taken from Edgar’s perspective as he was watching his friend instruct young ballerinas.

The painting may be perceived as simplistic upon the first viewing. However, it is full of clever details – for instance, the scene is bright, and the viewer can determine how the room is lighted. On the right, there is a big window, as seen from the reflection in the mirror on the left. Mirror serves as the second source, which is why the painting is not dim as Edgar’s other works. Such a combination of details, along with a realistic depiction of movement, makes the artist and the painting particularly interesting.

Works Cited

Edgar Degas: The Complete Works. Edgar Degas Organization, 2017, Web.

“Edgar Degas: The Ballet Class.” Musée d’Orsay, 2020. Web.

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Schenkel, Ruth. “Edgar Degas (1834–1917): Painting and Drawing.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Web.

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