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Essay on Painting

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Essay on Painting: Edgar Degas and His “Dancing” Pictures


Edgar Degas was one of the most influential painters and artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. His works are considered among the finest in the history of art and are usually beautiful portraits of dancers and naked females.

Originally Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, he was born in Paris in 1834, and died in 1917. His family members were appreciators of the arts; his father was a Parisian banker and art lover (Trachtman), and his mother was an opera singer from New Orleans with Creole roots (“Edgar Degas and His Paintings”). When Degas was young he studied in the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and later went to Italy to learn from the masters. He later returned to Paris, painting for the Royal Academy’s official Salon exhibitions. He managed to become a financially self-sufficient artist, which meant that he had as much creative freedom as he desired (Trachtman).

An Impressionist or a Realist?

The painter is seen as an Impressionist, although he considered himself a Realist. This discrepancy is possibly what makes Degas stand out from other Impressionists of his time. He is known for drawings, sculptures, prints, and paintings that depict movement and make use of pastel and soft colors. This taste for dynamic movement and beauty was the reason for his obsession with dancers and ballerinas, figures which he would come to portray in the majority of his paintings (Trachtman).

The Beauty of the Paintings

Dancing Class is one of the most famous masterpieces of the artist. It shows the end of a backstage rehearsal of a ballet class, in which the ballerinas are resting or stretching in company of their elder teacher. This painting shows a diagonal viewpoint of the class, which highlights the realism of the varnished floors (“Edgar Degas and His Paintings”). In the foreground we see dancers with great detail, from their muscles and posture, which allows us to feel their movement, to the colorful details of their dresses.

The Tub is one of the paintings of a series that depicts bare women while bathing. The paintings that show the intimacy of women during their toilette are some of Degas specialties, where he makes great use of pastels to show the human figure. In this painting the woman is in a strange position, which allows us to interpret her movements and suggests sexuality as well as animality (“Edgar Degas and His Paintings”).


In conclusion, Edgar Degas was an impressionist and realist that sought to capture moments in the flow of modern life. He favored to paint real-life scenarios and situations over landscapes and was a master at painting humans in movement, making him a crucial member of the impressionist group that rose in the turning of the century.

Works Cited

“Edgar Degas and His Paintings.” Edgar Degas: 50 Famous Paintings Analysis and Biography. N.p., 2010, www.edgar-degas.net.
Trachtman, Paul. “Degas and His Dancers.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Apr. 2003, www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/degas-and-his-dancers-79455990/.

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