Marriage of Degas’s parents, Laurent-Pierre-Augustin-Hyacinthe (Auguste) De Gas, banker, aged twenty-four, of Paris, formerly of Naples, and Marie Célestine Musson, of Paris.
The artist Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas is born at 8 rue Saint-Georges, Paris.
The artist’s brother Achille De Gas is born at 21 rue de la Victoire, Paris.
Degas’s sister Thérése De Gas is born in Naples.
Degas’s sister Marguerite De Gas is born in Passy.
Degas’s brother René De Gas is born at 24 rue de l’Ouest, Paris.
Degas begins school at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand as a boarder, which he attends until 1853.
Death of Degas’s mother.
Degas graduates from Lycée Louis-le-Grand with a baccalauréat on 27 March.
7 April: Degas is granted permission to copy at the Louvre.
9 April: Degas is granted permission to copy at the Cabinet des Estampes of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
12 November: Degas enrols at the School of Law (École de Droit), which he probably did not attend.
Degas joins Édouard Valpinçon, his friend’s father, on a visit to the Neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
March: Degas competes for a place at the École des Beaux-Arts.
April: Degas enters the studio of Louis Lamothe, who is a former student and loyal follower of Ingres.
July–September: Degas travels to Lyons with his teacher Lamothe and visits the painter Hippolyte Flandrin. He also travels around the Midi, visiting Arles, Sète, Nîmes and Avignon.
July: Degas, who is in Marseilles, leaves for Naples to see his paternal grandfather, Hilaire. He spends lengthy periods with his father’s sister Laure Bellelli (to whom he is close) and her family in Naples and Florence over the next three years.
Degas makes copies at the National Museum and paints a portrait of his cousin Giovanna Bellelli.
October: Degas goes to Rome, where he stays until July 1857. He attends night classes at the Villa Medici, enjoying many of the bene ts of the Prix de Rome scholarship pensionnaires and none of their constraints.
Degas draws around Rome and the Borghese gardens and works in the Sistine Chapel, Doria Pamphili Gallery and the Capitoline Gallery.
Degas meets Gustave Moreau at artistic sites in Rome.
Degas travels to Florence via Viterbo, Orvieto, Perugia, Assisi, Spello and Arezzo and sketches and copies Old Masters.
He stays with the Bellellis in Florence and sketches his aunt Laure.
“Degas starts using pastel. He studies and copies the Italian Masters, laying the foundations of his later career.”
Degas visits Pisa, Siena, Genoa and Turin.
In April he returns to settle in Paris with his father, who urges him to study further.
He sets up a studio in rue de Laval and begins several history paintings.
Degas paints Young Spartan girls challenging boys, and produces studies of horses and riders. He visits family in Naples and Florence again.
“Degas’s subjects increasingly feature city life and people at leisure; subjects also of keen interest to the future ‘Impressionists’.”
Degas registers as a copyist at the Louvre. He spends three weeks holidaying in Normandy with his friends the Valpinçons at their estate, Ménil-Hubert.
Degas and Paul Valpinçon visit the Haras du Pin stud farm, which inspires Degas’s first racehorse scenes.
Degas befriends Édouard Manet while he is copying Velàzquez’s Infanta Marguerita onto a copper plate at the Louvre. Manet introduces him to Pierre‐Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Émile Zola.
November: The Degas family worries about the inability of their ‘Raphael’ to complete any of his artistic projects.
“Our Raphael is still working, but has not produced anything that is really finished, and the years are passing.”
Auguste de Gas to his brother-in-law, 1862
Degas is reported to be working ‘furiously’. His brother René expresses concern that Degas is working too hard.
May: Salon jury rejects avant‐garde works en masse but the rejects are exhibited at the first Salon des Refusés (Rejects Exhibition) where they are celebrated. These include Manet’s Luncheon on the grass and Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1: The white girl.
Degas makes third and final visit to Ingres, and sees Ingres’s exhibition on the Quai Voltaire.
“Degas submits two portraits to the Salon.”
May: Degas debuts at the Paris Salon with his submission Scene of war in the Middle Ages
Death of Ingres, followed by a commemorative exhibition of his art at the École des Beaux―Arts.
Degas visits the Universal Exposition several times, which features Japanese art, including woodblock prints. His attention is captured by the English painters.
“Degas is on his way to becoming the painter of high life.”
Édouard Manet to Henri Fantin-Latour, 1868
May: Degas exhibits Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet The Spring.
July: Manet urges Degas to join him on a visit to London and is keen for Henri Fantin‐Latour to come too.
Degas accompanies his brother Achille to Brussels, where he is gratified to see one of his pictures exhibited in a prestigious private collection.
Degas visits Étretat and Villers-sur-Mer and visits Manet at Boulogne-sur-Mer.
“Degas’s interest in ballet and theatre subjects increases.”
NATIONAL EVENTS: On 19 July France declares war on Prussia.
Degas exhibits Madame Camus at the Salon.
October: Manet and Degas serve together in the artillery with the volunteer gunners. Degas is posted to fortifications north of the Bois de Vincennes under the command of an old school friend, Henri Rouart. He is greatly affected by the death of his friend, the sculptor Joseph Cuvelier, who is killed in action.
WORLD EVENTS: Siege of Paris ends with defeat of the French on 28 January. Paris Commune established on 18 March. French Government troops invade the Paris Commune, and over the course of eight days in late May 30,000 starving civilians are shot.
27 February: Berthe Morisot writes to her mother, reporting that Degas’s eccentricity and wit are the same as ever.
18 March: The Paris Commune is proclaimed.
Madame Morisot, the mother of the painter Berthe, criticises the support that Degas and Manet are giving to the Communards.
Degas visits London and probably sees Paul Durand-Ruel’s exhibition of modern French artists at 168 New Bond Street.
Durand-Ruel buys three works from Degas.
June: René Degas arrives in Paris from New Orleans and writes that Degas seems older and calmer, with a few white hairs. He notes that his sibling is making ravishing drawings, but that Degas is worried about his delicate eyesight. Degas entertains René and the guitarist Lorenzo Pagans in his ‘charming’ apartment.
July: Degas decides to accompany René to New Orleans.
October: Degas and René leave Liverpool for New Orleans on the Scotia.
November: Degas reports that he spends all day making portraits of his family in New Orleans. He is soon homesick for Paris and Manet.
“Degas writes that he is attracted by all he sees in New Orleans but that he is determined to return to Paris. Degas has found his New Orleans family demanding about their portraits, the models affectionate but too bold, and the lighting conditions ‘impossible’.”
WORLD EVENTS: German troops leave France after the Franco-Prussian War. The Long Depression hits Europe and North America (1873–96).
February: Degas reports to Tissot that he is working up two versions of A cotton office in New Orleans. Degas begins the homeward journey to France and arrives in Paris in March.
Degas makes a number of sales in Paris and London. Durand-Ruel purchases two pictures directly from Degas before suspending for financial reasons his support of the progressive artists who will become collectively known as the ‘impressionists’.
December: Degas joins with this group to form the Société Anonyme des Artistes.
“My eyes are fairly well but all the same I shall remain in the ranks of the infirm until I pass into the ranks of the blind. It it really bitter, is it not? Sometimes I feel a shiver of horror.”
Degas to Tissot, Paris 1873
The critic Edmond de Goncourt becomes interested in Degas’s work and praises his insight into the inner life of his subjects.
March: Degas becomes excited at the prospect of recruiting ‘realists’ to the Société Anonyme.
April: The first exhibition of the Société Anonyme des Artistes opens at Nadar’s studio, provocatively timed two weeks in advance of the opening of the official Salon. The art critic Jean Prouvaire hails their audacity and predicts they will upstage the Salon itself. Monet’s painting of the harbour at Le Havre, Impression sunrise, famously earns the group the epithet of ‘Impressionists’ from a sardonic critic. Degas acquires a reputation as the head of the ‘Realist’ or ‘Naturalist’ faction of the ‘Impressionists’.
Degas’s uncle Achille dies in Naples and leaves Degas a share of the Palazzo Degas and the villa at San Rocco di Capodimonte. The will is not to be settled until 1909.
The ‘Impressionists’ plan a second exhibition.
The Degas family is in financial difficulties. Degas seeks to increase his sales, producing monotypes that are quick to make, but their subject matter remains uncommercial.
“We place Degas the Pontiff, I think, of the sect of ‘The Impressionists’.”
The art critic Arthur Baignères, 1876
The second ‘impressionist’ exhibition opens at Galeries Durand-Ruel in March. Degas submits twenty-two works. Art critic Arthur Baignères dubs Degas ‘the pontiff’ of the group.
Degas moves to a new apartment at 4 rue Frochot. Located above a two-storey house, it has a glass roof and an astonishing view.
NATIONAL EVENTS: A political crisis arises in France after the dismissal of the incumbent government in May (1877).
Third Exposition de peinture opens at Galeries Durand‐Ruel in April at the rue le Peletier. Degas exhibits twenty-three paintings and three groups of monotypes. The critic Jules Claretie praises Degas’s monotypes and likens them to Goya. He condemns the rest as ‘mad and ugly’. The critic Paul Mantz describes Degas as a cruel painter but identifies him as the distinctive and innovative exception among the ‘impressionist’ group.
Degas laments the difficulties of making a living, and of life without the security of a family or good health.
The Musée des Beaux‐Arts de Pau acquires A cotton office in New Orleans, the first work by Degas to enter a public collection.
The fourth group exhibition opens in April, in which Degas exhibits twenty-five works. He is introduced to the American painter Mary Cassatt. Degas collaborates with Cassatt, Camille Pissarro and Félix Bracquemond on a journal of original prints that will never be realised, Night and Day (Le Jour et la nuit).
Degas’s financial troubles end. He develops a fascination for depicting women of the working classes: laundresses, seamstresses, milliners and entertainers.
Degas and Gustave Caillebotte disagree over the promotion for the fifth group exhibition, Caillebotte insisting that the exhibitors be publicised, defying Degas’s preference for participants’ anonymity.
The fifth group exhibition opens in April. The critic Armand Silvestre calls Degas the ‘uncontested master’ of the group and praises his work as interesting and original.
“In his studies of movement Degas focuses increasingly on woman at work or in intimate settings.”
Degas and Caillebotte dispute the nature of future exhibitions by their group. Caillebotte blames Degas for the disunity in the group and criticises his bad character.
The sixth exhibition at 35 boulevard des Capucines is held in April. Degas exhibits the sculpture The little fourteen-year-old dancer. The model is Marie van Goethem, daughter of a Parisian laundress and tailor. Displayed on a wooden base and wearing a tulle tutu, a satin ribbon and a wig, the sculpture causes an outcry for its perceived barbarism. The sculpture is praised by the novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans for its unsettling modern quality.
Eadweard Muybridge presents his high‐speed photographs to select audiences of artists and scientists in Paris.
NATIONAL EVENTS: Jules Ferry makes primary education in France free, non-clerical and obligatory. The Union Générale bank crashes in February, which briefly ruins Durand-Ruel.
The seventh ‘impressionist’ exhibition opens at 251 rue Saint‐Honoré in March. Degas refuses to participate. The painter Mary Cassatt believes Degas has left because of Paul Gauguin’s aggressive conduct. Caillebotte continues to blame Degas for compromising the Impressionists’ chances of favourable reception. Degas decides not to participate in the Salon, in order to paint and travel. His pictures increasingly focus on working‐class women, including milliners and laundresses.
Degas visits his friends the Halévys at Étretat.
Degas rejects an offer for a one‐man exhibition at Galeries Durand-Ruel, unlike Pissarro, Monet, Renoir and Sisley, but allows Durand-Ruel to show seven of his works at Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell, London, the following spring.
30 April: Manet dies.
May: In a letter to his son Lucien, Pissarro notes Huysmans’s high opinion of Degas, published in L’Art moderne and points out that Huysmans (like Lucien) believes Degas to be the greatest artist of the period.
Degas spends the summer and early autumn with the Valpinçons at Ménil-Hubert, Normandy, where he is frustrated with the progress of his pastels and worries about money.
NATIONAL EVENTS: Louis Pasteur successfully tests his vaccine against rabies.
Degas is selling well and fetches high prices. He acquires a painting by Ingres (Oedipus and the Sphinx) and has a season ticket to the opera.
August: Degas meets up with the young English painter Walter Sickert and Gauguin at Dieppe during a visit to the Halévys.
“From the 1880s, Durand‐Ruel struggles to obtain enough works by Degas to meet his clients’ demands. Degas increasingly withdraws from the art and cafe world and shuns fame. He declares he would decline the Légion d’honneur if it were offered to him.”
Degas goes to Naples to attend to the sale of the family property.
Planning for the next ‘impressionist’ exhibition begins in March. Despite Pissarro’s enthusiasm to include Georges Seurat’s recent canvas A Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande-Jatte but Degas is not keen. Zola publishes L’Oevre in April, a moral tale of artistic impotence based on a composite portrait of several ‘impressionists’. Degas professes contempt at Zola’s literary methods.
April–May: Degas exhibits twenty‐three works in New York as part of Durand-Ruel’s first ‘impressionist’ exhibition in the United States. The eighth ‘impressionist’ exhibition opens at 1 rue La tte in May. Seurat’s painting A Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande-Jatte is the main attraction. More than half of Degas’s entries are sold before the exhibition starts. After its closure, Degas and Mary Cassatt exchange pictures.
After the 1886 ‘impressionist’ exhibition, Degas stops participating in group shows and sells his pictures through dealers, including Durand-Ruel, Boussod & Valadon, Bernheim-Jeune, Hector Brame and Ambroise Vollard.
Degas begins forming his own collection of traditional and modern art.
“The distinction between a finished and an unfinished work is becoming more blurred for Degas, an ambiguity that Degas’s faithful clientele have come to expect.”
Theo van Gogh stages a small exhibition of Degas’s works.
Durand-Ruel resumes buying Degas’s pictures as his business recovers from the nancial disasters of 1882–84.
Van Gogh attributes Degas’s virile painting style to his celibate life and to a prurient and moralistic curiosity in sex.
Degas travels to Cauterets for a ‘cure’. He stays at l’Hotel l’Angleterre, where he mingles with the rich and famous.
Van Gogh informs Gauguin in Arles that Degas is buying Gauguin’s pictures and promoting his work to others.
Huysmans publishes a chapter on Degas’s nudes at the 1886 ‘impressionist’ exhibition in his new book, Certains.
The symbolist painter Odilon Redon writes in ecstatic tones about Degas’s work, praising its originality and use of colour, and declares his immense respect for the artist.
Degas exhibits images of dancers, jockeys and horses but refuses to exhibit in the ne arts pavilion of the 1889 Universal Exposition.
September: Degas travels to Spain and Morocco with the painter Giovanni Boldini.
“Degas’s work become less naturalistic. His drawings become more linear and expressive and his colours brighter and stronger.”
NATIONAL EVENT: The first driver’s licences are issued by police in Paris.
Degas’s works become less naturalistic. His drawings become more linear and expressive and his colours brighter and stronger, showing an affinity with Gauguin and the Pont-Aven School. The admiration is mutual.
“Durand-Ruel struggles to obtain enough works by Degas to meet his clients’ demands. Degas increasingly withdraws from the art and cafe world and shuns fame.”
January: Theo van Gogh is hospitalised with terminal syphilis and dies, aged thirty-three, six months after his brother. Degas attends a Buddhist mass at Musée Guimet read by Buddhist priests.
September: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec writes to his mother that Degas has encouraged him in his work over the summer.
October: Degas wears a device to strengthen his eyesight.
Degas visits the dying Eugène Manet, brother of Édouard and husband of Berthe Morisot.
Degas spends the summer in Ménil-Hubert with the Valpinçons.
Degas holds an exhibition of landscapes at Galeries Durand-Ruel.
NATIONAL EVENTS: The Dreyfus Affair erupts. In 1894 French anarchist Martial Bourdin attempts to blow up Royal Greenwich Observatory, London. Sadi Carnot, President of France, is assassinated by an Italian anarchist. The modern art critic and anarchist Félix Fénéon is suspected of involvement. Lumières displays the first moving picture lm in Paris.
Degas’s eyesight deteriorates.
Degas’s In a café (The Absinthe drinker), 1875–76, is exhibited at the Grafton Galleries, London, where it is found shocking.
September: Degas is a witness at the wedding of Jeanne Durand, daughter of Durand-Ruel.
Degas encourages Durand-Ruel to exhibit Gauguin’s work, and buys The Moon and the Earth.
Degas buys El Greco’s Saint Ildefonso, and ‘marvellous things’ at the Cézanne exhibition.
November: Pissaro writes that Degas has bought Gauguin’s The day of the god.
Alfred Dreyfus is convicted of treason in December and sentenced to life imprisonment. Degas supports the verdict.
Degas buys eight more works by Gauguin.
Berthe Morisot dies in March.
Degas buys a portrait by Eugène Delacroix, works by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne and writes that he cannot control his urge to buy. Siegfried Bing relaunches his Japanese art gallery as the ‘Maison de l’Art Nouveau’.
In December, Degas’s interest in photography grows: he undertakes a set of photographs of the Halévy family.
The Caillebotte bequest, including seven works by Degas, is accepted by the Musée du Luxembourg.
Degas acquires paintings by van Gogh and Cézanne.
Degas exhibits photographs at Tasset’s which are described by Renoir as a success.
Degas tells Daniel Halévy that taste does not exist and that artists instinctively produce beautiful things. Degas acquires portraits by Ingres.
Degas organises a retrospective of Berthe Morisot’s paintings at Galeries Durand-Ruel.
Degas writes to a friend in May, congratulating him on his children and regretting his own celibate life. Degas frets about his deteriorating eyesight.
NATIONAL EVENT: Marie and Pierre Curie announce discovery of radium.
Degas’s anti-Semitism alienates him from his liberal and part-Jewish friends and long-time supporters, the Halévys, with whom he breaks off.
Degas travels to Montauban to see Ingres’s drawings and paintings in December.
NATIONAL EVENT: Zola publishes ‘J’Accuse’, accusing the French government of anti-Semitism. Degas buys more works by Cézanne.
Julie Manet notes Degas’s entrenched anti-Semitism.
Degas attends the funeral of Gustave Moreau.
NATIONAL EVENT: Dreyfus is pardoned in September 1899.
Julie Manet asks Degas for a drawing for an edition of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poems. Degas refuses because the publisher supports Dreyfus.
May: Death of Gauguin. November: Death of Pissarro, with whom Degas broke off contact during the Dreyfus Affair.
February: Degas exhibits thirty-five works in a group exhibition held by Durand-Ruel at the Grafton Galleries, London.
The first Fauvist exhibition opens.
July: Alfred Dreyfus is officially exonerated by a military commission but Degas’s hostility towards him remains unchanged.
October: Cézanne dies. Degas owns seven canvases and a watercolour by Cézanne.
WORLD EVENTS: The Triple Entente is signed by France, the United Kingdom and Russia against Austria-Hungary and Germany. Louis Lumière develops a process for colour photography using a three-colour screen. Picasso paints Les demoiselles d’Avignon, which radically deconstructs volume and form and is inspired by African masks.
Degas’s old friend, the dentist Paul Paulin, works on a second bust of Degas in Degas’s studio.
Ludovic Halévy dies. Degas calls in to see the body, although he has not seen Halévy in ten years, following the school friends’ differences over the Dreyfus affair.
Degas anticipates imminent blindness and writes of wanting to sculpt.
Degas is thought to have attended an early performance by Sergei Diaghilev’s new dance company, the Ballet Russes.
NATIONAL EVENTS: The Seine over flows its banks, causing Paris, including the Métro, to become flooded.
Degas continues to sculpt.
Degas begins to reconcile with Louise Halévy, widow of his old friend.
NATIONAL EVENT: The theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre is discovered.
The Fogg Museum at Harvard University stages a solo exhibition of Degas’s work.
Galerie Georges Petit stages an exhibition of Ingres’s work, which Degas visits every morning. He feels the surfaces with his fingertips, claiming that his eyes are too weak to see them.
Degas’s friend Henri Rouart dies.
The painter Suzanne Valadon helps Degas find another apartment at 6 boulevard de Clichy when the apartment where he has lived for more than twenty years is scheduled for demolition.
Degas’s sister Thérèse dies in Naples. Degas assists with funeral expenses.
Degas’s Dancers at the barre, belonging to Rouart, sells for a record 478,000 francs in December, to the American collector Louise Havermayer.
NATIONAL EVENTS: Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated, precipitating the First World War. Georges Clemenceau becomes Prime Minister of France. The Mona Lisa is recovered.
Mary Cassatt writes in December that Degas is a physical wreck.
“After he moves apartment for the last time, Degas state ‘Since I moved, I no longer work … I let everything go. It’s amazing how indifferent you get in old age’.”
NATIONAL EVENTS: The First World War is declared on 28 July 1914.
“Degas is going gradually without suffering, without being beset by anxieties … That is the main thing, is it not!”
René De Gas to Lafond, November 1915
NATIONAL EVENTS: Battle of the Somme.
“I will never see my studio again.”
Degas to his model Alice Michel, 1917
Degas, aged eighty-two, is described by a friend as looking like the blind Homer, with a gaze that appears to contemplate eternity.
Paul Paulin pays a final visit to Degas in September and finds him detached and dreamy.
Degas dies a fortnight later, on 27 September, aged eighty-three.
Degas is buried in the family vault at Montmartre cemetery. Mourners include Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, Louise Halévy and Ambroise Vollard
“In accordance with Degas’s wishes, no speeches were made at his funeral and a headstone was made stating only that ‘he loved drawing very much’.”
The Life of Degas, was produced for the exhibition, Degas A New Vision. Click through the slides to read about Degas’ life, his thoughts, the development of his work and much more.