Social trends in mid-nineteenth-century France are readily apparent in the works of many of the Impressionist artists. The work of Edgar Degas is a good example. In this activity students will learn about Impressionism and about Degas's contribution to a new style in painting and sculpture.
Students will go to the Degas Web site to read about Degas's life and his contribution to a growing art movement. Students will answer a series of questions. They will then examine six of Degas's paintings and answer a series of opinion questions to refine their understanding of Impressionism.
- Students will be able to recognize features of Impressionism.
- Students will be able to apply what they have learned by using art as a potential source of information about the society it depicts.
Student Web Activity Answers
- Degas called himself and other Impressionists "realists" because he wanted to create works that were based in contemporary life and experience, not idealized images of mythological figures and historical subjects.
- The Salon was the group of French artists and art teachers who presided over public exhibitions during Degas's time. Artists had to meet stringent requirements to gain admission. Degas was among those who rejected the Salon's control over the art world. He was outspoken about the need for Impressionists to establish themselves as representatives of a new artistic style. Degas organized the first Impressionist exhibition and planned many later shows of Impressionist works.
- Impressionism was criticized for ignoring details, revealing brushstrokes, and placing unblended colors side by side.
- Degas fought in the Franco-Prussian War. Degas's friendship with a Jew named Ludovic HalÚvy ended because of Degas's political stand during the Dreyfus Affair.
- Students' answers to these questions will vary. Students may point out that while not all of Degas's paintings depicted the bourgeoisie, many did. His paintings also suggest that the bourgeoisie had become a dominant class in French society. One possible explanation for Degas's focus on bourgeois life might be that the bourgeoisie were major patrons of the arts. For example, the web site notes that Degas complained about the need to do many paintings of ballet dancers because of the high demand for these paintings.
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