Degas, Edgar



Impressionism: partaking 7 ‘impressionist’ expositions

Edgar Degas


A Realist

in the centre of the ‘impressionist’ art-movement


Was Edgar Degas an Impressionist?
Edgar Degas didn’t want to be called an Impressionist. He never painted en-plein-air, in his (early) paintings he used many browns and blacks and put more emphasize on line, than on colour. In that sense he didn’t paint in an impressionist painting style. Yet he was a key figure in what we now call the ‘impressionist’ art-movement. A movement he had preferred to call ‘Realist’ or ‘Independent’ (iR3;iR25). Degas had many contacts within the ‘impressionist’ circles, was co-founder of the Société anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs, etc  and had an important role in 7 of the 8 ‘impressionist’ expositions (see more). While Renoir (in 1878) and Monet (in 1880) returned to the Salon, it was Degas who emphasized the independence of the ‘impressionist’ expositions, by introducing (in 1879) the rule that those who submitted to the Salon, could not join the ‘impressionist’ expositions. Thus inspiring other independent group exhibitions like the ‘Salon des Independents‘ and ‘Les XX’ in Brussels (both 1884 onwards). Redon would praise Degas because he made the principle of independence so important (R47,p98).
Still the fleeting moment of every day life was a main theme in his paintings (since 1865; R27,p35+41;iR25). And also the rendering of the light effect was important for him (R26,p162). In the 1880s colour became more important for Degas and in his pastels he used juxtaposed brushstrokes. In that sense his painting style partly can be called ‘impressionistic’.


Edgar de Gas at the Salon:
Degas made his debut at the Salon in 1865. He was yearly excepted with 1 or 2 works. 1870 was the last time he submitted to the Salon. In 1872 and 1873 he didn’t submit (R5,p73+78). Degas mostly exhibited portraits and under the name Edgar de Gas (iR1). He never was very successful at the Salon (R26,p8). 1874 onwards Degas was one of the leading figures within the ‘impressionist’ group expositions, who were independent of the Salon. In contrast with Monet, Renoir, Sisley and others, Degas stayed opposed to and independent from the Salon. In 1878 Degas introduced the new condition that an artist intending to exhibit with the ‘impressionist’ group should not submit anything to the Salon (R2,p244).
See for the pictures: Degas at the Salon. See link for an account


Edgar Degas joined 7 of the 8 ‘impressionist’ expositions:
Degas more than once annouced more entries than he actually sent, or hung them during the exposition, or showed works that were not in the catalogue (R1,p339).
Degas exhibited 10 works at the 1st ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1874 (catalogue numbers 54-63). The catalogue indicates that Degas showed 4 drawings, but it is suggested that (most) were made with other techniques/media. It is strange that of a well documented artist as Degas, the identification of 8 of the 10 exhibited art-works are uncertain.
Degas exhibited about 23 works at the 2nd ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1876 (catalogue numbers 36-59). Most works depicted portrait, ballet scenes and women ironing. Probably 2 works were not exhibited (no.52 +56) and many suggestions stay uncertain.
Degas exhibited about 28 works at the 3rd ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1877 (catalogue numbers 37-61). 14 works were monotypes of which at least 8 were enhanced with pastel, many of them were café scenes.
Degas exhibited about 26 works at the 4th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1879 (catalogue numbers 57-81). Degas showed 5 fans and 6 works made with tempera.
Degas exhibited about 20 works at the 5th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1880 (the catalogue did not seem accurate). Probably he showed 7 pastels and 8 etchings. Eugène Véron reviewed in L’Art ‘Degas continues to be passionately devoted to movement, pursuing it even in violent and awkwardly contorted forms.’ (R2,p300;R90I,p317)
Degas exhibited about 16 works at the 6th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1881 (catalogue numbers 12-19). Degas showed the sculpture of his famous little dancer. Probably he also showed 8 art-works outside the catalogue (=hc).
Degas did not exhibit at the 7th ‘impressionist’ exposition, because Raffaëlli and other artists that were first invited by Degas, were not aloud to join (R2,p373).

Degas exhibited according to the catalogue 15 works, but in reality maybe not more than 10 pastels at the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1886. Particular was the serie of nudes that Degas exhibited.
In total Edgar Degas showed the second largest amount of art-works, namely 140, 6,8% of the whole. Just 55 were oil paintings. Degas showed the most (31) pastels, 21 art-works done with mixed techniques, several of his 17 exhibited engravings were done in monotype. Degas also showed drawings (10), fans (5) and 1 sculpture. He never showed aquarelles. Degas used the largest variation in techniques and thus can be seen as the most creative partaker.
After the ‘impressionist’ expositions Degas created an image of himself of an artist who did not exhibit anymore (R26,p13). But in fact his work was regularly exhibited in Paris and abroad. Some of these foreign exhibitions were called  “impressionist” (aR2,p9;R47). These exhibitions included a solo exhibition in 1892 and the ‘Exposition Universelle‘ in 1900 (R47,p121;R3,p657). See link for an account. See link for a thematical overview of his exhibited art-works.

Edgar Degas as an artist and his contacts within the impressionist circles:
In 1853 Degas started to take painting lessons with Félix Barrias and to copy etchings at the Cabinet des Estampes and later in the Louvre (until 1868). In 1854 he took lessons with Louis Lamothe. In 1855/04/06 Degas started his studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he became acquainted with Léon Bonnat, Fantin-Latour en Legros; he would stop his studies the same year (or in 1866). In the same year he met Ingres who stimulated him to draw many lines. From 1856-1860 he regularly visited Italy. There he made several portraits of his family, self-portraits, copies of old masters and became acquainted with Émile Lévy, Gustave Moreau, members of the ‘Macchiaioli’ and others. In 1858 his friend Félix Bracquemond aroused his interest in Japanese art. (R47,p11-13+34;R26,p7+11;R27,p20+27;iR24;R1,p16) In his portraits Degas tried to render the personality of the sitter (see below CR163); he also depicted an inability to connect (see above S1867-444) (R26,p82;aR2,p44;iR3). 1860/61 onwards Degas regularly stayed with the Valpinçon family in Ménil-Hubert and started to paint horse scenes (R47,p14;R26,p11). In 1865 (or:1862) Degas learned to know Manet and he started to depict themes from the modern life (iR11,p205;R26,p8+93;R27,p41+44). 1866 onwards Degas started to visit Café Guerbois, where he met many other artists (R47,p33;R26,p12;R27,p41). In 1868 Degas travelled with Manet to London (iR24). In 1869 Degas frequently visited the Morisot family and painted with Manet in Boulogne and Saint-Valéry-en-Caux (R47,p34;R26,p12). Berthe Morisot had always admired Degas greatly (R47,p115). 1873 onwards Degas frequently visited the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes (R47,p48;R26,p12). 1879 onwards pastels with nudes became a major subject (R26,p134). In the early 1880s (or around 1885) Degas en Gauguin became close friends (R47,p84;R26,p13). 1886 onwards Degas distanced from his impressionist friends, but he would preserve his friendship with Pissarro until the end (R47,p97). 1888 onwards Degas had more and more success in the USA; Mary Cassatt and the Havemeyer family played an important role in that (R47,p98).
1898 onwards his sight became worse every day and Degas dedicated himself to sculpture (R47,p116). After his death they found around 150/3 sculptures of wax and other materials; only 73 could be preserved and were casted in bronze. (R11,p218;R26,p10) Degas never made still-lives (R47,p93;aR2,p199) and not many landscapes, which he made in his studio mostly in pastel (see below CR250; R47,p112).


The painting style of Edgar Degas:
Following Ingres the line always was more important than colour (R47,p12+50;R27,p7+84). In his (early) paintings he used many browns and blacks (see above CR186). Degas painted his figures in his studio and created his own imagined composition, partly using his memory. He hardly used vibrating brushstrokes (R47,p63;R26,p162;R27,p60+83). His art had nothing spontaneously. A same subject he repeatedly rendered, also from different perspectives. He mainly was an observer (R26,p162-4;R27,p72). In the 1880s his colours became more intensified and Degas also used complementary colours (R47,p101+117+119;R11,p208;R27,p84). The colour strokes of his pastels come close to an Impressionist way of painting (R27,p84;iR3). In many of his dancers and nudes the faces of the models are half hidden (R47,p91+120;R11,p208;R27,p72). 1886 onwards Degas doesn’t seem to discriminate between preliminary studies and finished works (R47,p104). In the 1890s colour seemed to become more important than line (R47,p107+111). In his later paintings he left out more and more detail (R47,p111+126+127;R11,p216). He said that a painting needs a certain mysteriousness, vagueness and fantasy (R26,p162). Degas himself said about his way of working: A painting is an original combination of lines and colours who complete each other. You have to arrange the different elements to achieve something enchanting. (R47,p57). After first painting several historical paintings (1860-65), Degas dedicated himself to rendering fleeting moments of every day life (R27,p35+41;iR25). The rendering of the light effect was important for Degas (R26,p162), this mostly was artificial light. Already in his more early paintings Degas cut of his figures (see below CR125). Degas also used remarkable perspectives (see above CR 186 + 405 + 476 + 872). Both ways of working were influenced by Japonism (R47,p36+72+87+103+114;R11,p204+209+210+314-19;R5,p6;R27,p83). In his portraits objects became as important as the model, objects that also represented the character of the model (see above CR305 + 517 and below CR125). See link for a thematical overview of his exhibited art-works.



Edgar Degas experimented with several media:
His whole life Degas did search for the best media to depict his scenes (R47,p81;R26,p165). In 1876 Degas started to make etchings and monotypes (R47,p65). In 1877 Degas exhibited at least 6 monotype drawings made with greasy ink (3IE-1877-58-60). Degas also would rework his monotypes with pastel, gouache and other media. 1881 onwards he intensified his working with monotypes (and also with pastels; R47,p84). 1890-93 Degas maked a series of landscapes in monotype. These landscapes were imaginary (R47,p105+112;R26,p138).
Degas did experiment with chemical means to discover what pigments would be most sustainable (R47,p75+92). In 1879 Degas exhibited some works with essence (=oil thinned with turpentine) (see 4IE-1879-63+64). Maybe he had done so before, without that it was indicated. In 1879 Degas exhibited several works détrempe (=tempera) (see 4IE-1879-58); he invented the technique of waterpastel (R27,p93). Later on Degas would rework his oil paintings in a way he made them look like pastels (R47,p107/8+118). After 1880-85 the use of pastels become dominant over oil paintings. Often he would mix the pastel with gouache, watercolour or essence / terpentine. Often he would lay several colour layers on top of each other.  (R27,p84).
In 1879, together with Cassatt, Pissarro, Félix Bracquemond, Caillebotte, Forain, Raffaëlli and Rouart, Degas had plans for a journal with etchings called ‘la jour et la nuit’ (R47,p66;R26,p12;aR2,p61-3+235-45). A plan that failed, because Degas was not ready (aR2,p235). It was Lepic who taught him in the technique of etching (iR3). At the end of the 1870s Degas made about 20 fans using watercolour, gouache, pastel, ink and other media on silk (R47,p81). In 1879 he exhibited 5 of them (see 4IE-1879-77-81). Degas also liked photography and used it for his paintings (R5,p204;R47,p106;aR17). See link for a thematical overview of his exhibited art-works.


Edgar Degas was a painter of gestures instead of movement:
Some emphasize Degas was a painter of movement (R47,p77+95;R11,p208;R26,p6+10+165;R27,p51+58+81+83;iR3). But when we look more closely, many of the movements Degas rendered are frozen, like in a statue (R47,p25;R11,p219). Degas rendered his figures, especially his dancers and nudes, in all kind of poses. Poses that look a bit unnatural, forced, distorted or even vulgar. When we look closer, Degas used these poses for the lines in his composition. Degas also re-used earlier poses in new compositions. So, I think it is more appropriate to call Degas a painter of gestures, than of movement. (R47,p63+64+70+75+80+90+96+100+103+107+108+110+111+113+117;R26,p164;R27,p75;R3,p121)


Was Edgar Degas rich or poor?
Edgar Degas was born in a rich banking family, with aristocratic roots (R47,p11). After the death of his father in February 1874 and because of the poor business management of his brothers, the family bank became bankrupt and Degas agreed to pay back the family debts, which lasted until the (late) 80’s and left him with limited resources (R27,p85+93;aR2,p11+85;R47,p104). He also had to sell part of his art-collection (R47,p48;R27,p86). He would regularly ask Durand-Ruel for money (R26,p10). Still, somewhere between 1883 and 1893 he started to collect art again, something he had done already in the earlier years (see below). This indicates the restauration of his wealth.


Edgar Degas as an art-collector:
During his life Degas collected art (aR2,p11). Somewhere between 1883 and 1893, when sales of his own works became successful, he started to collect to the full and he even got ideas of creating a museum (aR2,p8+16;R47,p52+125;R26,p10+14). Degas his collection consisted mostly of French artists from the 19th century, including many works of Ingres and Delacroix; 1800 litho’s of Daumier; the almost complete graphic work of Manet; some old masters; works from fellow Impressionists, including Boudin, Félix Bracquemond, Brandon, Cézanne, Cassatt, Gauguin, Guillaumin, Forain, Legros, Lepic, Morisot, de Nittis, Piette, Pissarro, Renoir, Rouart, Sisley, Zandomeneghi (many of them in exchange with his own works), but not one of Monet, whose work he detested (aR2,p3+5+60-64+197+298;R47,p52-4+125;R26,p10;R27,p87;iR65;iR3). In his collection there were just a few landscapes (aR2,p43). After his death his collection was sold in auctions in 1918 (26-27 Marz; 6-8 May; 6+7/15+16/22+23 November; 11-13 December) and in 1919 (7-9 April; 2-4 July). (aR2,p337;iR65;R5,p237;aR1;R47,p54;R26,p14).

Edgar Degas his character:
Degas often came in conflict with others: with Manet after he criticised the double portrait of his and his wife (aR2,p45;R26,no214); after Tissot sold his Degas collection (R47,p52); after Renoir sold the Degas painting he received from the Caillebotte heritage (R31,p308); after buyers re-sold his work to make profit (R47,p53); after he did not finish a painting in commission of Fauré in time (R47,p74).
Degas often was full of self-doubt, high demanding to himself and others, highly disciplined, with unpredictable moods and a deadly irony (R26,p6). His exterior cruelty was a protection for his easy to hurt interior (R27,p8).
In his relations with women Degas could be detached and rude. He always stayed single. The relation with Mary Cassatt was the most close, but also this relation ended with a conflict (R26,p9+10;iR3).

Hilaire Germain Edgar de Gas / Degas, a short private biography:

  • 1834/07/19 born as Hilaire Germain Edgar de Gas in the Rue Saint-Georges, 8 in Paris (R47,p11;R26,p11;R27,p16).
    Note: he changed around 1873 ‘de Gas’ into Degas, which was the original family name  (R27,p16; R26,p11)
  • His father was a rich banker. His mother comes from an Creole family from New Orleans. His grandfather had fled to Italy, where part of the family still lived. He came from an aristocratic family. (R47,p11+19;R26,p5-7;R27,p16)
  • 1845/10/05: started his studies at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, where Henri Rouart, Paul Valpinçon and Ludovic Halévy become his lifelong friends (R47,p11;R27,p93;R27,p16). Note: with Rouart after they met again during the Franco-Prussian war (R92,p130).
  • 1847/09/05:  his mother died (R47,p11;R27,p93;R26,p7)
  • 1854-60 visited to Italy (partly to his family) (R26,p11;R27,p20)
  • 1865-70: liveed at 13, Rue de Laval, Paris (iR1;R259), now 13, Rue Victor Massé (iR218).
  • 1870 served in the Franco-Prussian war under his friend Henri Rouart (R47,p47;R26,p8)
  • 1870: first problems with his sight (R47,p47;R26,p8)
  • 1872: started to visit the dance school of the Opéra at the Rue le Peletier (R47,p47;R26,p12)
  • 1872: met Durand-Ruel, who bought some of his works (R27,p93;R26,p12)
  • 1872-6: Degas exhibited in London (at the Durand-Ruel gallery and other galleries) (R47,p47/8+65)
  • 1872/10 – 1873/04: Degas visited his family in New Orleans (R47,p47+48;R26,p12)
  • 1883: withdrew more and more from social life (R47,p84;R26,p12); this withdrawal is intensified 1893 onwards; he would receive just a few people in his house; he spend most of his social life with the Rouart, Valpinçon and Halévy family; around 1896/97, because of the Dreyfus affair, he would also distance from the Halévy family (R47,p106+113-6+128;R26,p10+14;R27,p16). Dumas states this withdrawl was more a myth and only a fact after 1912 (aR2,p44).
  • 1886: treaty with Durand-Ruel (R27,p93)
  • 1890: moved to the Rue Victor Massé, 37 where he also had a studio and exhibited his collection (R47,p54+105+123). Dumas mentions 1897/11 as date (aR2,p14).
  • 1893-95: further decline of his sight (R27,p93)
  • 1912 had to leave his former house and moved to the Boulevard de Clichy, 6 (R47,p123;R26,p10+14)
  • 1908-12: Degas was almost blind and stopped drawing / painting (R47,p123;R27,p93)
  • 1917/09/27 Degas died at the age of 83 (aR2,p3;R47,p124;R27,p93) (Dony mentions Degas died the 26th; R26,p10; Bénézit does the same, iR24). Only his best friends are present, including Monet, Forain (R47,p124).
  • 1918/03/26+27: sale of the Degas collection of aquarelles, pastels et dessins at the Georges Petit Galerie (iR40,bpt6k647631p)
  • 1918/05/06+07+08: sale of the Degas collection of aquarelles, pastels et dessins at the Georges Petit Galerie (iR40,bpt6k64557186)
  • 1918/11/22+23: sale at Galerie Manzi-Joyant of Degas his eaux-fortes, vernis-mous, aqua-tints, lithographies et monotypes (iR40,bpt6k130257w)
  • 1919/04/07+08+09: 3rd sale of Degas his tableaux, pastels et dessins at the Georges Petit Galerie (iR40,bpt6k4221379j)
  • 1919/07/02+03+04: 4th and last sale of Degas his tableaux, pastels et dessins at the Georges Petit Galerie (iR40,bpt6k9811739m)
  • 1949: publication of his drawings: croquis de Degas, 1877 or Dessins de Degas; they were partly executed during soirées held at Ludovic Halévy (iR40,btv1b5225131309)

My main sources are books on Degas by Torres (2006=R47), Dony (1976=R26) and Hüttinger (1977=R27). Additional sources are Moffett (1986= R2), Walther (2013=R3), Denvir (1993=R5), the English Wikipedia (iR3) and the Salon database (iR1). Several sources refer to the Catalogue Raisonné of Lemoisne (1946-49=CR114) and the Supplement by Brame & Reff (1984=R206). My main sources for the pictures are (iR2), Wikimedia (iR6), Google art-project (iR8), Google images (iR10), Joconde (iR23), (iR53), (iR59),, from several musea and the additional references (=aRx).  For other general references (=R) see.  For other references to internet sites (=iR) see. For other additional references (=aR) see below. See links for practical hints and abbreviations and for the subscription of the paintings.
See his works in Musea: in the Louvre (M5a); in the NGA in Washington (M21); the Metropolitan (M23); in Passadena (M43); the Morgan (M224);
For further reading see:
Janis, Eugenia Parry: Degas Monotypes; essay, catalogue, & checklist. Cambridge: Fogg Art Museum, 1968 (=R205; iR24=

Additional references (=aR):

  1. (1918/11/25-26 catalogue of the 2nd auction of Degas’ legacy)
  2. Ann Dumas (ed): The private collection of Edgar Degas. Metropolitan, 1997 (digital book) (=R133)
  3. (1253 pictures in alphabetical order)
  4. innovative impressions prints (article referring to an exhibition in 2018 in Philbrook about the prints of Cassatt, Degas and Pissarro)
  5. (the entire 5th Volume of Henri Beraldi: Les graveurs du XIXe siècle with works about Degas; =iR40 = R85V)
  6. (the entire 9th volume of Loys Delteil: Le peintre-graveur illustré (XIX – XXe siècles about Edgar Degas; =R138IX)
  7. “Edgar Degas.” In Database of Modern Exhibitions (DoME). European Paintings and Drawings 1905-1915. Last modified Dec 17, 2020. =iR261; overview of contributions of Degas in exhibitions and auctions from 1905-1915.
  8.  (works of Degas at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris = M1)
  9. (works of Degas in musea in Paris = iR195)
  10. (works of Degas at Joconde = iR23)
  11. (works of Degas at the Département des Arts Graphique of the Louvre; =M5a)
  12. (exhibition of monotypes by Degas in the Museum of Modern Art in New York)
  13. (overview of drawings by Degas or related to Degas; =iR105=M147)
  14. (the National Gallery of Art in Washington renders beautiful high resolution pictures of Degas; =M21=iR168)
  15. (collection of works of Degas in the Art Institute of Chicago; =M20)
  16. (collection of works of Degas in the Metropolitan; =M23)
  17. https/ (online version of the book: Malcolm Daniel (ed.): Edgar Degas Photographer, Metropolitan New York, 1998; =M23)
  18. (starting page with links to Degas his engravings; =iR40)
  19. (article ‘Impressionism – The influence of photography’ also rendering pictures of Degas)
  20.  (pictures and article on the monotypes Degas made for ‘La famille Cardinal’ by Ludovic Halévy)
  21. (31 prints after the monotypes of Degas made for ‘La famille Cardinal’ by Ludovic Halévy)
  22. (1949: publication of his drawings: croquis de Degas, 1877 or Dessins de Degas)
  23. (online catalogue raisonné by Michel Schulman)
  24. (drawings of ballet dancers by Degas)


Recommanded citation: “Impressionism: Edgar Degas, a Realist in the center of the ‘impressionist’ art-movement. Last modified 2024/02/14.”