Born in 1834 of a wealthy Paris family, Degas studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and was a pupil of Ingres.
His early works, family portraits and some history pictures, belied his later oeuvre. By the late 1860s, he had begun to develop a more casual style of painting, probably influenced by Manet and also by Whistler. He was a member of the group that included Renoir, Cezanne, Monet, Sisley, and Pissarro.
He stopped exhibiting at the Salon in 1870, and in 1874 took part in the first Impressionist Exhibition. His works were received at the time with hostility and ridicule because no-one understood the concepts behind Impressionism, apart from a select few. Fortunately, Degas had a private income and he could not understand why some of his less fortunate contemporaries sold out in an endeavour to attract purchasers.
His first pictures of dancers were painted in about 1873, and from then on ballet girls, working models and cabaret artists became his principal subject matter. He was a brilliant experimenter and innovator. His sound knowledge of traditional techniques enabled him to make endless trials in various media and create mixtures such as oil paints thinned with turpentine (pienture a l’essence). In later life, his eyesight weakened and his handling became wider and freer.
Degas died in 1917.