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Edgar Degas, Man the Myth the Artist

Essay by   •  December 9, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  656 Words (3 Pages)  •  1,422 Views

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It is in his concepts of man versus himself, his studying of light, capturing a moment and use of large shapes to flatten space that makes Edgar Degas an impressionist. In comparison to his peers, Degas has a tight style of painting and defined, characterized, figures; yet, it is not style that defines impressionism:

"Unlike realism, impressionism rarely responded to politics... impressionist painters preferred genre subjects, especially scenes of leisure activities, entertainment and landscape, and impressionism was more influenced by Japanese prints and new developments in photograph..." (Adams, 805)

Laurie Schneider Adams defines the impressionist movement, being careful not to describe the use of paint and its thick application. She does this to clarify that impressionism is a concept not a style. While most impressionist do coat their canvas, style is second to the idea that the observed properties of light and color. It is in this understanding that Edgar Degas' Ballet Dancer with Arms Crossed is an impressionistic painting.

With an asymmetrical composition, Edgar Degas' 1872 painting, Ballet Dancer with Arms Crossed is 24 1/8 x 19 7/8 inches large. Large graphic shapes, mostly red or yellow in tone, form a brooding dancer. A sensation of three dimensionality is achieved with two light sources, one bring and the other dim. The front of her body is dimly lit, allowing soft light to give great detail to the collarbone and face. Although never confirmed, this painting is most likely one of Degas numerous sketches. A notorious perfectionist, Degas would often bring his original charcoal drawings to finish in order to prepare for a future piece.

Before impressionism, during the realist movement, there was an underlining message of man versus nature. With the industrial revolution, a new message arrived: man versus himself. This message was most evident in Degas' many equestrian paintings; Laurie Schneider Adams states,

"In At the Races, Degas' figures are in a state of restlessness... At the left, a single horse gallops into the picture plane as his jockey reins him. The arrested movement of the galloping horse draws attention to the distant train that continues on... Degas refers to the contrast between mechanized and natural movement and to the changing modes of transportation created by the industrial revolution." (Adams, 821)

The industrial Revolution continued mans affair with himself: the ambition to always perfect, refine, and move forward. Degas often composes natural and unnatural forms juxtapose, in Ballet Dancer with Arms Crossed the comparison is in light. The natural light over powers the artificial light. The artificial seems impotent, when compared to the natural. However, Degas does not give a solid outcome to

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