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Art : Degas Notes

Edgar Degas (19 July 1834 – 27 September 1917) was a French artist perhaps best known for his paintings of ballerinas.

Most consider Degas to be an impressionist though he rejected the term preferring to be called a realist. Whether or not he was an impressionist, he was a key supporter of the movement in its early days, and arranged several of the first exhibitions.

He worked in many mediums throughout his life including oils, pastels and sculpture.

“I want to look through the keyhole…you can look at people. We were created to look at one another, weren’t we?”
Edgar Degas

In his later life, Degas began to focus on nudes, mostly of woman bathing which he first exhibited in the eighth Impressionist Exhibition in 1886. In every one of these nudes the model’s head is either turned away or obscured giving the effect that she had no idea that she was being watched. This “keyhole” approach is very interesting, as by removing the male gaze from the nude, Degas enhances the realism of the scene. In most other paintings, even in realist works, there is a hint that the models have some level of cognition of the artist, either as a pose or through a glance, and so the artist himself is being reflected back by the scene. However, Degas’ candid approach completely detaches the viewer and so we can see the nude during a very personal moment and allows us to share that moment with her. Without the viewer she is comfortable with herself and her body, and is free to enjoy the sensuous pleasures of bathing.

This voyeuristic series of nudes confused Degas’ critics. When depicting nudes, it was traditional to use some kind of historical or mythological setting, however Degas’ nudes showed woman in a contemporary setting.




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