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(Born Paris, 19 July 1834; died Paris, 27 Sept. 1917). French painter, draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor. He was the son of a wealthy art-loving banker and was initially trained for the law. In 1854, however, he began studying with Louis Lamothe (1822–1869), a pupil of Ingres, who handed on the master's tradition of draughtsmanship. Degas also attended the École des Beaux-Arts, but the most important part of his artistic education was gained through assiduous study of the Old Masters, both in the Louvre and in Italy, where he lived 1856–9 (he had Italian relatives and made several subsequent visits to the country). Most of his early works were portraits or history paintings on classical themes (Young Spartans Exercising, c.1860, NG, London), but in 1862 he met Manet (while copying a Velázquez in the Louvre) and this helped to bring about a decisive change of direction in his art. Manet introduced him to the circle of the young Impressionists and during the next few years he abandoned historical pictures and turned to contemporary subjects; they included scenes of the ballet and theatre, café interiors, laundresses at work, and women bathing—no other painter of his time portrayed such a rich variety of themes from contemporary urban society.

Text source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)

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