Degas considered himself a Realist and wanted to be a history painter. After graduating from the École des Beaux-Arts, he painted several historical scenes like Sémiramis Building Babylon and Young Spartans. Though his academic training focused on Classical art, he later came to be considered a founder of the Impressionist movement.
Though his name is now synonymous with the movement, Degas actually had little in common with the other Impressionists: he didn’t paint outdoors (en plein air), he preferred a more muted color palette, and he rarely painted landscapes.
Like his fellow Impressionists, however, Degas embraced things modern. Free from his academic background, his subjects shifted from historical scenes to scenes of everyday life: depictions of the racetrack and women at work appear frequently in his paintings.
Degas is best known for his fascination with ballet: his first painting on the subject, Mlle Fiocre in the Ballet ‘La Source’, featuring ballerina Eugénie Fiocre, went to The Salon for exhibition in 1868. He then began to focus on rehearsal scenes, emphasizing the dancers’ professionalism. From 1870 on, Degas became a prolific painter of the ballet – so much so that he was able to repay his brother’s many debts with his earnings.
Like what you see? Browse our dedicated Degas gallery.