Edgar Degas and His Famous Painting "The Bellelli Family"

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Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas was born in Paris, France and is known for his Impressionist paintings, although he did not identify with many of their notions. He did not like to paint in the open air and had a difficult relationship with Claude Monet who remained true to Impressionism throughout his life. However, as a painter he was recognized in his lifetime. He is now also acknowledged as one of the founders of Impressionism.

Degas’ work was both admired and derided in his lifetime. With his decision to join the Impressionist movement, he became unpopular with many art critics and art lovers of his time. Many did not understand this new movement of light and colour. His paintings done whilst at the Salon between 1865 and 1870 were readily accepted as this was expected of the artists who painted there. When he rejected the rigidity and the rules of the Salon; they in turn rejected him.

He was the eldest of 5 children and his father was a banker. Although he loved to paint from an early age; Edgar Degas was not encouraged by his father to be an artist. His father had other plans for his son. He subsequently attended university and obtained a degree in literature. His mother had died when he was only 13 years old. Therefore his father and grandfather became his main guardians and were the influences in his early life.

Although his father was intent on his studying law; Degas had begun to paint at a young age and had already turned a room in his home into an art studio by the time he was eighteen!He dropped out of studying law and he registered as a copyist at the Louvre Art Museum. He connected with other artists; some who would influence his work throughout his lifetime.

In 1856 he travelled to Italy where he would reside for three years. In 1858 whilst staying with relatives in Naples he had the idea for his now famous painting “The Bellelli Family“. This was one of his early masterpieces.Degas is also famous for his paintings of ballerinas, race horses and the Paris social scene.

Edgar Degas The Bellelli Family

The Bellelli Family

“The Bellelli Family” is oil on canvas. This is a portrait of his Aunt Laura, her husband Baron Genarro Bellelliand their two young daughters Giulia and Giovanna. Although the painting was drawn whilst staying with his aunt; it is believed that Degas completed the work when he returned to Paris.

Laura was his father’s sister. Degas painted her in black,for she was in mourning at the recent death of her father. In the framed portrait positioned behind his aunt, it is believed it may be of her father. Laura’s husband, the baron was an Italian patriot who had been exiled from Naples and wasliving in Florence. The painting shows him separated from his family.

His position at the desk is too close to the fireplace. The two daughters are staying close to their mother Laura. Her countenance appears serious but dignified. She dominates the painting and is given the space not afforded her husband. Giovanna, who is the younger daughter, is sitting in a relaxed pose; though her gaze is not fixed on her father. The elder sister Giulia appears restrained yet close to her mother. There appears to be some form of family tension. It appears the marriage is not a happy one.

“The Bellelli Family” was started by Degas when he was only 24years old. Although it is now one of Degas’ most famous paintings, in his lifetime it was only exhibited once. It was then not seen again till after his death. “The Bellelli Family” is a study in human relationships and Degas has captured in a subtle way the dysfunction within this family. This famous painting has now been recognized for the magnificent portraiture it has always been.

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