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Edgar Degas (Sculpture, Impressionism, Realism): Art Lesson Plan

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Edgar Degas (Sculpture, Impressionism, Realism): Art Lesson Plan

Edgar Degas (July 19, 1834 to September 27, 1917, age 83) was a French painter and sculptor. He lived in Paris and attended as many ballet performances as possible. He also attended small ballet classes, admiring the dedication of the ballet dancers, who practiced the same moves over and over again. More than half of his works depict dancers, typically within routine motions such as rehearsing, stretching, and resting.

Degas is usually classified as one of the founders of Impressionism. Originating among Paris-based artists during the 1870s and 1880s, Impressionism is characterized by relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes and a concern with the shifting effect of light and color. Impressionist works include ordinary subject matter and movement. The painting Four Dancers is an example of a work by Degas in the Impressionist style. Is the painting of four dancers or one dancer in four positions?

Four Dancers by Edgar Degas

Degas rejected the term Impressionism and referred to himself as a Realist. In fact, Degas continually belittled the Impressionist practice of painting en plein air, or painting outdoors. Realism or naturalism attempts to represent subject matter truthfully while avoiding stylization. Degas created approximately 150 wax and clay sculptures before his death. However, the only sculpture that he ever displayed publicly was Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. The sculpture stood almost life-size and was made of clay and wax. The sculpture was so realist that people debated whether it belonged in an art museum or science museum.

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Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen by Edgar Degas
Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen by Edgar Degas

Activity

Many of Degas’ sculptures show dancers in the middle of movements. With a partner, explore various poses. What does each part of the body look like mid-pose? Then use playdough or clay to sculpt your favorite pose? Can you capture the motion before and after the pose?

Recommended Books

Edgar Degas (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists) (9780531220870)
Edgar Degas: Paintings That Dance (Smart About Art) (9780448425207)
Degas and the Little Dancer (Anholt’s Artists Books For Children) (9780764138522)
Dancing with Degas (9780811840477)
Chasing Degas (9780810938786)

Additional Resources

Edgar Degas at The Art Story

Image Credits

Edgar Degas (Sculpture, Impressionism, Realism): Art Lesson Plan © 2019 Heather Johnson
Four Dancers by Edgar Degas
Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen by Edgar Degas

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Written by Heather Johnson

Heather is a writer, librarian, linguist, wife, and mother who loves her husband, children, dogs, and cat. She has a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in creative writing and master's degrees in library and information science and English studies with a concentration in linguistics.

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