Five Degas works

We explore five works that reveal why this artist was considered so revolutionary.


Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1880-1 cast c1922

  • Tate Modern
  • 50% off exhibitions with National Art Pass

When Degas first exhibited this artwork at the sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881 it scandalised visitors. The sculpture, a portrait of a plucky little dancer called Marie van Goethem, was considered so drab and realistic one writer described it as a 'rat from the opera learning her craft with all of her evil instincts and vicious inclinations'. Today she is one of the most famous and much loved sculptures in the world.


Woman Ironing, 1892-95

  • Walker Art Gallery
  • Free entry to all

Degas was a painter of everyday life and he was particularly fascinated in capturing those quiet, private domestic moments where the real business of living and working takes place. As a result, his paintings were often thought to embody the societal isolation experienced in 19th-century Paris, a time of rapid industrial growth that completely overwhelmed the city.


The Rehearsal, c1874

  • Burrell Collection
  • Free entry to all

Degas loved the ballet. He haunted the newly built Paris Opéra, studying the performances and sketching the dancers backstage. He once said his soul was like a worn pink satin ballet shoe. He was at his best when painting the performers preparing for their moment in the spotlight. Capturing their anticipation with exceptional clarity.


Woman at a Window, 1871

  • The Courtauld Gallery
  • Free entry with National Art Pass

It is in the moments of stillness that Degas' lyricism is revealed, like this intense portrait of a woman seated at a window. The painting was made in 1871 while Paris was under siege by the Prussian army. Degas had volunteered to fight, but discovered his eyesight was too poor. It marked the beginning of Degas slow descent into blindness that crippled the last years of his life.


Combing the Hair (La Coiffure), 1896

  • National Gallery
  • 50% off exhibitions with National Art Pass

Degas' light, Impressionist-style and use of bold colour often gave his paintings a slightly smoky and claustrophobic atmosphere. The off-kilter compositions were also a way of creating intimacy between the subject and the viewer. In fact, the odd compositions were down to Degas interest in photography. He wanted his paintings to look like a snapshots taken by an observer.

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