Edgar Degas was a French painter and sculptor. Part of the Impressionist school of painting, where artistic interpretation was more valued than life-like renderings of figures, Degas was known for his canvases depicting ballerinas, theater patrons, and Parisian laborers. Intellectual creativity led Degas to work with many unusual techniques, but the deterioration of his vision toward the end of his life made many of these more tactile approaches an artisticnecessity.
Edgar Degas preferred various media throughout his artistic life, yet he often combined several different media on one canvas to give the work dimension and depth. Pastels, oil paints, gouache, and other materials can be found mingling together on the canvas in several of Degas' paintings, including "Dancers Practicing at the Barre" (1877) and "The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage" (1874). Each medium had a very particular application. Thinner, lighter media like watercolor would blur the lines of different objects while bold materials like charcoal would create the original sketch of the eventual painting.
By placing a series of long, undulating lines in alternating colors next to each other, Degas managed to give vibrancy and energy to even the most commonplace subject matter. Cross-hatching, where the same hatching lines are over-lapped by a set of perpendicular lines, was another favorite painting technique of Degas. Instead of painstakingly painting the wall behind the subject in "Woman in a Tub" (1885) Degas used cross-hatching to symbolically convey the broad expanse of space. Hatching and cross-hatching are most often found in Degas' pastel works, both wet painted pastels and dry chalked pastels.
Painting was not limited to Degas' canvases. When creating monotypes, an artist smears paint on a flat surface, etches an image into the paint and presses the flat surface on to a canvas, imprinting the canvas with the etched image. Degas tweaked the monotype process by painting the surface, then using brushes to create the imagery he sought, forgoing the typical etching process. As his eyesight deteriorated in later years, Degas would add different media to the monotype surface for added depth and texture. Pastels were used to hazily delineate the crags of painted mountains in Degas' dreamlike "Landscape" monotype from 1892.
Frequently deployed in many of Degas' works, impasto is the technique of applying paint in thick, striking layers. Brushstrokes are clearly visible, and the image is slightly raised from the canvas. Often Degas would combine pastels or oil paints with binding agents that would create a thick, paste-like paint that Degas would spread around the canvas. Impasto can clearly be seen in Degas' 1857 "Self Portrait," especially around the edges of Degas' smock and kerchief.
- "The Metropolitan Museum of Art"; Edgar Degas (1837-1914): Painting and Drawing; Ruth Schenkel
- "DegasPainting.info"; Degas Style and Technique; 2007
- "The Tate Collection"; Woman in a Tub by Edward Degas; August 2004
- "The Collector's Guide"; What is a Monotype?; Pamela Michaelis
- "Odd Man Out: Readings of the Work and Reputation of Edgar Degas"; Carol M. Armstrong; 1991; pg. 231
- Photo Credit Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images News/Getty Images