These are the 12 most famous paintings by Edgar Degas. Born in Paris in 1834, Degas, was a French painter, sculptor, and printmaker who was significant in the Impressionist movement and well known for his images of Parisian life. He was fascinated by ballet dancers and wanted to represent their grace and strength in his paintings. They were frequently painted backstage as they were preparing for a show.
The Dance Class (La Classe de Danse) (1873–1876)
Arguably number one of the many famous paintings by Edgar Degas, this painting depicts ballerinas and their moms waiting for Jules Perrot, a famous ballet master, to begin a class. The action takes place in the rehearsal room of the old Paris Opera, which was destroyed by fire. Degas was drawn to the topic of dancing because he wanted to represent fleeting moments in the flow of modern life.
A Cotton Office in New Orleans (1873)
This is a painting of Degas’s uncle’s cotton brokerage business that went bankrupt during an economic downturn. It was the first painting by Degas, and the first by an Impressionist, to be bought by a museum. This is one of the most iconic symbols of capitalism throughout the 19th century.
At the Races (1877–1880)
This painting depicts horses and riders in motion and at ease in an outdoor scene. Color, light, and shadow are all carefully considered in his depictions of equestrian beauties, their human riders, and bystanders. The blend of close-up details and distant viewpoints makes it really interesting. This is one of Degas’s more traditional and naturalistic works.
At the Café-Concert: The Song of the Dog (1875–1877)
This painting depicts a woman with her hands in the motion of a dog (from a popular song of the period). Edgar enlarged the painting twice by gluing strips of paper to the right and painting over them. The colors have been enhanced and the forms have been highlighted using pastel strokes on top of the watercolor.
The Bellelli Family (1858–1867)
This painting is of the artist’s aunt, her husband, and their two children, who were all living in Italy at the time. The painting is sometimes referred to as a “Family Portrait” because the subjects were the artist’s relatives. This portrait is the most emotional depiction of marital conflict and the largest painting ever created by Edgar. This is not only generally considered to be one of the most most famous paintings by Edgar Degas, but is also one of the most famous family portraits in art history.
The Orchestra of the Opera (1870)
This is a painting of Desire Dihau, Degas’s bassoonist friend, who is seated in the center of the painting, in a position that would ordinarily be occupied by one of the first violins. The dancers are seen cut off at the shoulder to avoid distracting the orchestra. This is the first of Degas’ portrayals of the opera, and it is widely considered to be the last of his historical paintings.
Portrait of Mlle. Hortense Valpinçon (1871)
This is a painting of Hortense, Degas’s eldest child, and only daughter. Degas visited Ménil-Hubert, the country residence of his childhood friend Paul Valpinçon, on a regular basis throughout his life. This painting is one of the most unforgettable results of those visits, and it is his most successful portrayal of a child.
Stage Rehearsal (1878–1879)
This is a painting of a dancer who is itching her back in the foreground to a woman yawning next to the stage flat. This painting recalls the pastel form, which is more loosely handled. For decades, historians have struggled with the relationship between the three variations of this scene.
Waiting, pastel on paper (1880–1882)
This painting depicts a ballerina with her chaperone, who is bent over, seemingly massaging her feet but whose body language implies a person nervously waiting for her performance. It’s known for its vivid colors and deep perspective. This pastel painting is an early example of more than 200 ballerina paintings, mixed-media drawings, and sculptures.
Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando (1879)
This is a painting of a circus acrobat whose highlight was being raised to the ceiling by her teeth. This is one of a series of pastels and drawings that were all done on the spot. Degas appears to have admired and sympathized with performers who participated in disciplined and hard physical exercise.
Young Spartans Exercising (1860–1862)
This painting depicts two groups of Spartan children, both male and female, exercising and competing in some sort of sport. They also appear to mock or beckon the boys. “Young Spartans Exercising” is also known as “Young Spartans” and also as “Young Spartan Girls Challenging Boys.” This is one of Degas’s earliest paintings.
L’Absinthe is also considered to be one of the most famous paintings by Edgar Degas. It depicts two people sitting in the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes. Several impressionist artists attended the café at the time. This painting was originally titled “L’Absinthe,” although it has been interpreted as both “Absinthe Drinker” and “Glass of Absinthe.” Both figures in the painting have appeared in other great artists’ works, including Paul Cezanne and Edouard Manet.
What famous paintings by Edgar Degas do you think we should add to this list? Comment below.