Looking for the most famous paintings by Edgar Degas? From the Ballet series to the criticized L’Absinthe, this post will show you Edgar Degas’ best paintings.
Paris-born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, popularly known as Edgar Degas, was a French Impressionist painter and sculptor, although he preferred to categorize himself as a realist painter.
Unlike other famous French painters, he was very fascinated with dancers and dance classes and this can be seen in many of his famous artworks depicting these as the main subjects.
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Edgar made a total of about 626 artworks throughout his life, most focussing on dance, people, and millinery shops.
His portraiture is considered one of the greatest, especially for its realism and depiction of subtle loneliness.
If you’re a fan of the artist or his art style, here are the 13 most famous paintings by Edgar Degas that you should see.
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13 Most Famous Paintings by Edgar Degas
Although most of Edgar’s paintings were based on dancers, this list includes his famous paintings on various other subjects.
Apart from the dance-related theme, Edgar also presumably enjoyed voyeurism, given many of his paintings depicted people in the private confines of their homes doing personal things or in nudity.
If you are wondering which of his paintings you should see and where to see them, the 13 most famous Edgar Degas paintings listed below with their current locations should help you out.
We start the famous Edgar Degas artworks with The Bellelli Family portrait, which you can find at Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
For a brief period, Edgar lived with his paternal aunt, Laura, in Florence, Italy and this painting of Laura’s family portrays the Bellelli household equations.
He painted it sometime between 1858 and 1867. Pictured are Laura, her husband baron Gennaro Bellelli, and their daughters, Giovanna (to the left) and Giulia (to the right).
Laura was mourning her father, whose portrait hangs behind her, while she was pregnant with a 3rd child on the way.
The distance between the parents depicts their dispassionate relationship, while everyone’s expressions show the strained familial equations.
While this portrait received so many revering reviews during its exhibition in 1918, it also received some critics with one particular person calling it, and I quote “as dull as a Flemish interior, although the dry technique is distinctive.”
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2. A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers (1865)
Second on the list of renowned paintings of Edgar Degas is A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers.
It has a huge vase full of flowers as its subject and a woman seated next to it in a pensive pose, staring in the opposite direction of the flowers.
Edgar wanted to portray people in everyday life doing routine tasks, and this artwork was one of those.
The woman is supposedly Edgar’s friend’s wife, whom he presumably painted when he was a guest in their country home, but there are no reports to confirm this.
This oil on canvas painting hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
Edgar liked portraying people’s relationships through his artworks, an example of which can be seen in The Bellelli Family.
Monsieur and Madame Édouard Manet, one of the famous paintings of Degas, also touches on this subject.
This painting depicts fellow artist Édouard Manet, a friend of Edgar’s, and Édouard’s wife, Suzanne Manet, in their home.
In the original, gifted to Édouard by Edgar, you can see Suzanne’s entire self but, Édouard supposedly did not like how his wife was painted so he slashed it from top to bottom, tearing through Suzanne, whose face now cannot be seen.
When Edgar saw this, he was furious and took it back, intending to restore it, but did not get around to it.
This painting is currently at the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Japan.
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Edgar tended to stage scenes in his studio to paint his artworks, so it’s possible that some were fictitious.
The realism depicted by Edgar Degas in his paintings was contrasted by people questioning the connection to real-life instances.
This controversial oil painting, Interior also known as The Rape has a man and a half-naked lady in a bedroom, supposedly portraying a rape scene.
However, art historians were not able to confirm its literary source and some believed it was a staged scene rather than one based on real events.
Despite its criticism and the rather chilling subject, from an artistic viewpoint, Edgar represents the play of light and darkness quite well in the painting.
The painting is currently housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
5. A Cotton Office in New Orleans (1872-1873)
Like the inspiration Edgar drew from his personal life for some of the other paintings, A Cotton Office in New Orleans is also based on his maternal uncle, Michel Musson, and his New Orleans-based cotton business.
Apart from Michel, the oil painting also depicts Edgar’s other family members, all preoccupied with work, like his brothers René and Achille and Michel’s son-in-law William Bell.
Edgar drew this painting when he was visiting his family in New Orleans in 1873. It was the only piece of artwork by Edgar purchased by a museum while he was still alive and is still located in the same museum, Musée des beaux-arts de Pau, Pau, France.
Related Post: Famous Painting in Paris
On this list of Edgar Degas’ most famous paintings, The Rehearsal is the first of Edgar’s series on ballerinas in various dance forms and across different places. This happened to be his favorite subject.
In this masterpiece, some ballerinas can be seen performing in sync to the tune of a violist, seen seated on the left, while the others get ready and are stretching, awaiting their turn.
Edgar visited the Paris Opéra and its ballet wing on numerous occasions to observe the dancers. And when he couldn’t pay a visit to the class, he asked the dancers to come and pose for him in his studio.
You can find this painting at The Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
7. The Ballet Class (La Classe De Danse) (1874)
The 2nd oil painting on Edgar’s favorite subject is The Ballet Class displayed in Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
This is also probably one of the most famous Edgar Degas paintings on the topic. Like Ballet Rehearsal, this too was completed in the same year (1874).
This oil painting showcases the ballerinas stretching and adjusting their appearance at the end of their ballet class.
It also has a man with a stick standing in the middle overlooking them identified as a former dancer turned ballet master, Jules Perrot, who was a friend of Edgar’s.
8. Ballet Rehearsal On Stage (Répétition d’un ballet sur la scène) (1874)
The 3rd in the ballet series on this list is Ballet Rehearsal On Stage. Edgar became a subscriber or abonné (men with backstage privileges) only in the 1880s.
Before that, he had backstage access courtesy of friends like Jules Perrot. Using this, he watched the dancers closely and translated their movements into the artwork.
In this artwork, Edgar depicts ballet dancers rehearsing on stage. Some are performing on stage, while the others are warming up, waiting to perform.
Each ballerina’s expression differs from the next, something Edgar was good at capturing in addition to motion.
You can see this artwork at Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
9. L’Absinthe (In a Cafe)(1875 – 76)
Another one of the famous paintings by Edgar Degas is L’Absinthe, also called Dans un café (In a Café), displayed at Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
It portrays a woman staring aimlessly with a passionless and forlorn expression. She has a filled glass of absinthe in front of her, a drink popular across Europe during the time.
Some interpretations say she’s depicted as a prostitute given her clothing and since she’s in a bar, a place rarely frequented by wealthy and classy French women.
In reality, it was staged in his studio with the subject being actress-model Ellen Andrée.
Though the painting’s USP is the realism captured by Edgar Degas, it didn’t come without criticism and controversy.
When Degas first showcased this painting in 1876, many critics called it ugly and disgusting. Due to backlash, it was put into storage until a later display but the subsequent showings didn’t differ much from the original critics.
In fact, showcasing it in England in 1893 even made it worse as the English found it to be immoral due to its fronting of absinthe and a woman who seemed to be a prostitute.
Fast forward to today, it is considered one of the most famous paintings by Edgar Degas.
10. Place de la Concorde (1879)
Place de la Concorde, also titled Viscount Lepic and his Daughters Crossing the Place de la Concorde, is located in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The eponymous place depicted in the painting is currently the largest and one of the major public squares in Paris.
The oil on canvas painting depicts a scene wherein Count Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic, seen smoking a cigar, and his daughters and a dog are crossing this place.
Vicomte Lepic, as he was popularly known, was an artist, archaeologist, and a friend of Edgar.
The painting also has a man to the left who is said to be writer Daniel Halevy, another friend of Edgar’s.
11. The Star (L’Étoile) (1878)
L’Étoile, also titled The Star and Prima Ballerina in several places, is located in Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Painted is Rosita Mauri, a Spanish prima ballerina and ballet teacher, on an empty stage in an arabesque pose, basking in the glory of her solo performance.
This is one of the most famous Degas paintings of ballet dancers and the only one of two with a solo dancer as the primary subject.
The other is Fin d’Arabesque, also a painting of Rosita Mauri but with a bouquet in her hand.
12. The Millinery Shop (Chez la modiste) (1879-86)
Millinery shops are another thing that fascinated Edgar, who had visited a few in the company of fellow artist and muse Mary Cassatt and this painting is a part of his milliner painting series.
The painting depicts a woman sitting at the display of a millinery shop working on a woman’s hat, seen by an outsider standing and looking in.
It also showcases 5 other finished hats on display. This is one of the largest paintings that Edgar created.
It is also the only museum-scale work on this subject and it can be found at the Art Institute of Chicago, USA.
13. After The Bath, Woman Drying Herself (Après le bain, femme s’essuyant) (1895)
This entry brings us to the end of Edgar Degas’ famous paintings list. Like Monsieur and Madame Édouard Manet and Interior, After The Bath, Woman Drying Herself is also a voyeuristic painting.
It is a part of Edgar’s bathing series and depicts a naked woman drying herself after having a bath.
The woman, whose back is facing the audience, is unsuspecting, which is why this series was criticized and received negatively by the public for depicting women in a s*xualized manner.
This oil painting can be found in The National Gallery in London, U.K.
Final Thoughts on Degas’ Famous Paintings
Impressionist or realist Edgar Degas knew how to portray art in a way like no other artist. And sadly, like most artists of his time, he gained most of his recognition only after his death.
What are your thoughts on Edgar Degas’ most famous paintings and the artist himself? Did you like any of the artworks in particular or have you seen any in person?
Share your interpretations with me in the comments below and I’d also love to hear your thoughts on Edgar’s artwork.
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