Edgar Degas has become known as one of the world’s most influential Impressionist, or Realist (the title he preferred), artists. Impressionism was one of the most important art movements in the nineteenth century and had great influences on Modern Art development. The first Impressionist exhibitions were held in 1874, but at the time, it still was not recognized as a real art. Impressionist artists, including Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, ignored details, revealed their brushstrokes, and placed unblended colors next to each other throughout their artwork.
They were artists who were dissatisfied with Academic Art and opposed the Romantics idea that the main reason for art was to create emotional excitement for its viewers. Edgar Degas was one of these ‘rebels’ and one of the most prominent members of the group. Degas became known for his description of his subjects, which included depictions of ballet dancers and woman bathing which portrayed the ‘Impressionist’ label of experimental and vivid use of color. 1 As seen throughout many of his paintings, Degas consistently is seen to observe “laundresses, milliners and ballet dancers at work. 2 He employs in his artwork unusual perspectives and complex formal structures. His works, “Dancers, in Pink and Green” and “Woman Combing Her Hair” are two in particular pieces that are well-known and clearly depict the ‘Impressionist’ details of Degas. Both are very familiar in style, and in symbolism as well. “Dancers in Pink and Green” and “Woman Combing her Hair” are two of hundreds of Degas pieces. They have significant similarities in style, mostly in part because they both reflect Impressionist artistic details. The charm of these two pictures are abstract- consisting in rhythm of light and shade, color and movement.
Degas uses oil on canvas for “Dancers, in Pink and Green. ” The vibrant colors, especially pink and green, are prominent in the painting and portray to the viewer a natural view of the ballerinas. The ballerinas appear natural and spontaneous rather than having a build up of composition with well-studied proportions and balance. Edgar Degas’ goal was to create a simple yet appealing image to the eye. Although Edgar Degas ignored details, revealed brushstrokes and placed unblended colors side by side, he still created a very realistic image of the ballerinas.
If a viewer were to take a few steps back from the painting, the image itself seems to fall into place and seems real and intricate. His unusual perspectives and complex structures present in his artworks are also seen in his “Woman Combing her Hair. ” Edgar Degas created “Woman Combing Her Hair” with pastels on a light green wove paper. The pastels helped establish a simple in theme, but complex in structure, composition. He depended upon vivid colors and purposeful gestures in his paintings rather than precise lines. 3 These characteristics added to the depiction of the subject of the painting.
As seen in the previous Dancer art piece, the natural image of a woman is portrayed, but in this case it is a woman combing her hair. There is no build up of composition with studied proportions or balance as well- it is an image merely of a naked woman combing her hair. “The animal being that takes care of himself, a cat that licks itself. Up to this moment, the nude has been presented in poses that had a public in mind; my women, on the other hand, are simple honest people who bother with nothing but the very caring of their bodies. ”(Edgar Degas)4 This quote reflects upon his view as an Impressionist artist.
He did not want to portray his women as fixed poses that are established to create an image of a typical woman’s stance in the public mind, but to just provide the audience with a natural woman performing the mere routines of caring for her body. Within the two paintings, Degas expressed and categorized these women according to their profession: whether they be dancers or regular women of the household. They represented specific types of individuals. 5 Although completely different in themes, both paintings relay a similar message that not only characterizes Degas’ paintings, but characterizes Degas himself.
It is evident through the collection of his works that Edgar Degas has developed obsessions, especially with woman in different forms. In these two cases, the women are either dancers or are regular woman performing daily routines such as combing hair. He is a keen observer to women and has cultivated complete objectivity in his paintings for he catches complete natural spontaneous poses of his subjects. These poses were very controversial at the time because it ‘exposed’ women in an uncommon way- a nude portrayal of them just in the means of their home. It could be nterpreted that Degas took regular woman routines, and added sexual depictions to them on purpose so that from then on, a woman combing her hair could be then be imagined as a woman combing her hair naked. As seen in “Dancers, in Pink and Green,” Degas reveals a simple image of multiple dancers getting ready to perform, and one in-particular dancer is just staring at her feet while others are prepping for the performance. This simple depiction has more complex meaning in that the dancers are typically portrayed dancing. However, in this case, Degas shows one of them just staring at her feet- not dancing yet.
Dance depicts structure, form and predetermined actions- a contradiction to his ideal of natural spontaneous poses. In “Woman Combing Her Hair,” the image is obviously simple- a woman performing a daily routine. This indicates clearly that Edgar Degas seems to pay much attention to women’s actions in detail. The ballet dancers and naked woman are like a film sequence of women in his collection. They are neither delirious or romantic figures, but instead are objects of obsessed study of their working movements and intimate daily activities.
Both “Dancers, in Pink and Green” and “Woman Combing Her Hair” were painted to portray a very natural feel, as if the viewers have come upon the scene without the knowledge of the people engaged in it. Quality of unexpectedness and elasticity is evident, and this suits the expression of movement and life in the paintings. Every appears to not to be premeditated, but an instantaneous impression, unlike a camera because the action isn’t suspended- it retains elastic rhythm of moving life. Within these two pieces of art, Edgar Degas is seen to put emphasis on certain aspects.
In the case of the ballet dancers, emphasis is placed on the dancers’ costumes through their vivid color and size in comparison to the dancers’ body. They seem to ‘stand-out’ from the body in the painting. Degas’ ballet dancers have no beauty in the face or grace of figure in an ordinary sense. Rather, the beauty of the painting is depicted through the vibrant unblended colors of the pink and green costumes. The colors of the costumes, although they are very visible, are simultaneously related to the background colors- the natural colors of the scenery in the painting.
In “Woman Combing Her Hair,” emphasis is prominently placed upon the the length and color of the woman’s hair. The painting is dominated by light colors such as light vibrant green, and the white rug and the soft skin tones; however, the hair seems to be the prominent feature of the image that catches the eye the most. It’s length and dark luscious color grab the viewers’ attention and draws them to the focus: the woman combing her hair. Like the ballet dancers in “Dancers, in Pink and Green” Degas does not make an attempt to conceal the physical activity of this woman.
Without seeing the woman’s face, it is difficult to identify her beauty for he has purposefully concealed it so that emphasis could be placed on the action and artistic expression rather than the details. This also applies to the “Dancers, in Pink and Green” painting. This unusual angularity was common in many of Degas’ pieces- it was a distinct characteristic of his innovative composition. He received many of his ideas from Japanese Print Art- this type of art heavily influenced his paintings; and his paintings and art style has in-turn influenced the artists following him.
Edgar Degas has made history in the art world. His paintings have influenced and affected many, and have also been an inspiration for the next generation of artists. He made a huge impact on the effect that Impression had on the public and was known for it. His art had harmonious representation- aesthetic moments fixed on the canvas. : E. de Goncourt Jamal said on February 13, 1874 in commentary to Degas’ first exhibition: “Up until now, he is the person who best represents in a modern form what may be called the soul. ”6
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