Edgar Degas was a French painter, graphic artist, and sculptor. He began to paint early in his life. By eighteen, he had turned a room in his home into an artist's studio, and in 1853 he registered as a copyist in the Louvre. His father, however, expected him to go to law school. Degas duly registered at the Faculty of Law of the University of Paris in November 1853, but made little effort at his studies there. In 1855, Degas met Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, whom he revered, and whose advice he never forgot: "Draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from life and from memory, and you will become a good artist." In April of that same year, Degas received admission to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
In 1854-1859 he made several trips to Italy, some of the time visiting relatives, studying the Old Masters; he painted historical pictures and realistic portraits of his relatives: Portrait of Marguerite de Gas, the Artist's Sister, Portrait of Achille de Gas in the Uniform of a Cadet, Portrait of Hilaire de Gas, Grandfather of the Artist. By 1860 Degas had drawn over 700 copies of other works, mainly early Italian Renaissance and French classical art.
In the 1860s he was introduced to Impressionism by Édouard Manet and gave up his academic aspirations, turning for his subject matter to the fast-moving city life of Paris, particularly the ballet, theatre, circus, racetrack, and cafés. Influenced by Japanese prints and the new medium of photography, he used displaced figure groupings and unfamiliar perspective to create figure groups seen informally and in movement, similar in effect to snapshots. His fascination with the ballet and the racetrack sprang from his interest in picturing people absorbed in the practiced movements of their occupations.
At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Degas enlisted in the National Guard, where his defense of Paris left him little time for painting. During rifle training his eyesight was found to be defective, and for the rest of his life his eye problems were a constant worry to him.
After the war, in 1872, Degas began an extended stay in New Orleans, Louisiana, where his brother René and a number of other relatives lived. Staying in a house on Esplanade Avenue, Degas produced a number of works, many depicting family members. One of Degas' New Orleans works, depicting a scene at The Cotton Exchange at New Orleans, garnered favorable attention back in France, and was his only work purchased by a museum (that of Pau) during his lifetime.
After his return from America, Degas had closer contact with dealers such as Durand-Ruel, in an attempt to bring his work to public attention independently of the Salon. In 1874 Degas helped organize the 1st Impressionist exhibition. He always found the term “Impressionism” unacceptable – mainly, perhaps, because he did not share the Impressionists’ over-riding interest in landscape and color. He did not care to be tied down to one method of painting. Nonetheless, Degas was to participate in all the group exhibitions except that of 1882. Degas used the group and the exhibitions high-handedly to promote himself. His strategy seems to have been to show off his own diversity at the exhibitions, for he always entered works that were thematically and technically very varied
Although he is known to have been working in pastel as late as the end of 1907, and is believed to have continued making sculpture as late as 1910, he apparently ceased working in 1912, when the impending demolition of his longtime residence on the rue Victor Massé forced a wrenching move to quarters on the boulevard de Clichy. He never married and spent the last years of his life, nearly blind, restlessly wandering the streets of Paris before dying in 1917.