Happy Birthday, Edgar Degas!

Happy birthday to the French artist Edgar Degas, born in Paris on July 19, 1834! Degas was born into a family of Parisian bankers and briefly flirted with studying law—thank goodness he choose not to! Adhering to a style and artistic philosophy foreign to the time’s artistic establishment, in 1873 Degas joined contemporaries such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Paul Cézanne—the Impressionists, as they came to be called—in organizing independent exhibitions to present and sell their new and avant-garde works. However, despite being one of the group’s most prominent members, Degas never described himself as an Impressionist, personally disliking the term. Instead, he referred to his style as realist or naturalist. 

Many of his works focused on relatively few subjects, due in part to his fascination with a subject’s position and movement. For instance, his oeuvre includes 600 versions of ballerinas, one such being this work, Frieze of Dancers, composed in 1895. 

Edgar Degas. Frieze of Dancers, c. 1895. Oil on fabric; 70 x 200.5 cm. Gift of the Hanna Fund.

Frieze of Dancers is a bold work of art for Degas’s time. The four figures depicted are in fact one dancer as seen from four different viewpoints, this when consensus held that paintings must represent unity of time, place, and viewpoint. Degas also explored and developed a wide variety of novel techniques, evident here in the small circles applied to the foreground with his thumb and the wisps of color so spontaneously applied that the paint ran and dripped. Frieze of Dancers is on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art in gallery 222a.


Guest Author

Benjamin Francisco

The Cleveland Museum of Art

Benjamin Francisco is a Cello Performance major at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, and an intern in the Communications and Marketing Department at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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