Born on July 19, 1834, in Paris, France, he was the eldest out of five children. His full name is Hilaire-Germain-Edgar DeGas. His dad was a banker, and the family was moderately wealthy. At 11 years old, he enrolled at Lycée Louis-le-Grand, and graduated in 1853 at the age of 17 with a bachelor in Literature. His mom died when he was 13. His dad wanted him to be a lawyer, so he began later on that year. He put very little effort into it, for he wanted to be an artist. The next year, he turned one of the rooms in his house into a studio, and enlisted at the Louvre as a copyist (a person who goes and copies art for studying). While painting there one day, he met Jean August Dominique Ingres, one of his favorite artists. Ingres told him, “Draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from life and memory, and you will become a good artist.” In April of 1855, he received admission to École des Beaux-Arts. The year after, he traveled to Italy for three years. He stayed with his aunt’s family in Naples, and copied many Italian Renaissance and Classic French paintings while there. By 1860, he had painted over 700 pieces, mainly copies. He returned to France in 1859, and moved to Paris to get a studio.


Degas first paintings were historical. He submitted his work Scene of War in the Middle Ages to the Paris Salon in 1865, but it received no attention, and he never did a historical painting again. His work began to gain awareness when he previewed Scene from the Steeplechase: the Fallen Jockey in the Paris Salon of 1886. This piece shows the transition into his new phase of work, a more contemporary manner of art. In 1864, he met Éduard Manet while at the Louvre; they were copying the same Velázquez painting. Afterwards, he became friends with Manet and his work became more like the Impressionists. With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, he enlisted in the National Guard. At rifle practice, he found out that his eyesight was defective, which became a problem for the rest of his life. After the war, he went to visit his brother in New Orleans, LA. He continued to paint, but most of his works are categorized as Realism. The Cotton Exchange in New Orleans, 1873, was the only piece to ever sell to a museum during his lifetime; it was sold to the Pau Museum. He returned home later that year. In 1874, his dad died. When the will was being divided, Edgar found out that his brother Réne had amassed massive debts. Edgar sold his artwork that he had inherited and his house to help save the family name.


Over the years, Degas had become increasingly disappointed with the Paris Salon, so he started showing his work off with the Impressionists in 1874. He took over for organizing the exhibits, which the Impressionists soon realized was a bad mistake. Degas put anybody into the Show, which angered everybody. Plus, he hated being called an Impressionist; he didn’t believe he was one. But what Degas didn’t realize is that his experiment with color and form, his pictures of daily life, and his friendships with all the artists, specifically Mary Cassatt made him an Impressionist. In 1886, the group broke up because they couldn’t take Edgar anymore. Slowly, his financial situation improved, and he was able to start collecting the art he had been forced to sell. Degas idolized Delacroix, Ingres, and Daumier, which were represented well in his compilation, as well as El Greco and other classical artists. His work like the Glass of Absinthe (painting), 1876, and Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (statue), 1881, were well received by the art community, and his popularity increased along with his earnings. A majority of his art is oil paintings, but many of it is done with pastels, like The Tub, 1886, and his other bather pictures. Through out the years though, Edgar had become isolated because of his argumentative nature and the Dreyfus Affair. Dreyfus was a Major in the army who was framed for treason because he was Jewish, and was sentenced to prison. Degas believed him guilty because he hated Jews, and he lost many friends over it. Edgar’s last friend was Pierre Augustus Renoir, who eventually left him as well. “What a creature, Degas! All his friends had to leave him; I was the last to go, but even I couldn’t stay with him until the end.” Degas stopped making art in 1912, for he was forced out of his longtime residence on rue Victor Massé due to a demolition of the building. He spent the last years of his life wandering around Paris nearly blind. He never married nor had any children. His only assistant was Mary Cassatt. Edgar Degas died on September 27, 1917.