Degas remains one of the most beloved of all artists. Often classified as an Impressionist, Degas never truly considered himself as such. Nearly a decade older than such Impressionists as Renoir and Monet, Degas was an influential force for the young artists who turned conventional art on its head. His not quite academic style made him not as popular with mainstream French artists and critics as Degas wanted. But it did influence the creation of Impressionism.
Degas’ paintings depict everyday scenes that other artists of his age were not painting at all. Instead of choosing for a subject the most dramatic moment of a great ballet, Degas depicted the dancers in the studio practicing their routine or even at a break in their daily routine. What normally would be the central focus of a painting, is not. Views are skewed, the image not exactly centered. It is this that is more in tune with Impressionism than Degas would have liked to believe. A single moment captured in time in what Degas’ works depict – the exact idea behind Impressionism.
One example of Degas’ slightly out of the norm work is Dancers Practicing at the Bar. In this scene two ballerina’s practice their dancing at bar. But instead of the painting being centered on the dancers, with the two women being in the center, it is slightly off. Both dancers are off center, instead near the top right corner of the painting. It is as if Degas has just walked into the room and this is what he saw, then painted it down exactly as it was.
Another example of the momentary quality of Degas’ work can be seen in his Portrait of Monsieur and Madame Edouard Manet. Manet, friend and fellow painter, turns his head slightly to look at the viewer as if he has just entered the room. And indeed that is what it feels like. A yellow wall runs down the right hand side of the painting, half obscuring Madame Manet. These everyday scenes, the momentary quality and airy brush work make Degas’ work so beloved and relatable even today. This scene, as well as many more of the paintings by Degas, feel like we have just stepped into a private moment. Sometimes we are seen, as in this painting, and other times we are not, as in the dancers. Either way, we the viewer are privy to an intimate moment, a single fleeting second captured in time for the rest of eternity. Degas’ paintings greatly influenced the next generation of painters, helping to bring Impressionism, and by extension modern art, into being. But more so than being historically important, Degas paints with an ease and grace that everyone can relate to.