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  • Edgar Degas
    Jul 19, 1834 - Sep 27, 1917
  • Young Spartans Exercising - Edgar Degas was a French artist famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist. A superb draughtsman, he is especially identified with the subject of the dance, and over half his works depict dancers.
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Young Spartans Exercising
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  • Young Spartans Exercising

  • Edgar Degas
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  • 1860
    Oil on board
    Fogg Museum of Art, United States.

    Young Spartans Exercising depicts as its subject matter two groups of youths, four women and five men, with the young women apparently taunting or beckoning the men. The women are positioned to the left of the painting, the men to the right, while in-between the two groups in the background appear a third group watching the youths; their appearance striking as they are fully dressed while the youths in the foreground stand naked or topless. Behind the onlookers, identified as Lycurgus and the youths' mothers, lies the city of Sparta, dominated by Mount Taygetus, from which the bodies of the society's "unfit" children were supposedly thrown into a ravine, to die from trauma or exposure.

    The painting was begun in 1860 with Degas returning to the canvas to rework the piece over the following years, though it remained unfinished upon the artist's death. X-rays taken of the work during the early 21st century have revealed that Degas changed the positioning of the youths, their faces, and even their number; this last change resulted in the strange image of the four women in the foreground having ten legs among them. Degas' revisitation of the faces of the youths is often mentioned in art criticism, as it is believed the artist changed the features of the youths from the classic handsome Greek ideal, to a more urban modernistic look. The French art historian André Lemoisne, was first to note on this fact, remarking that the subjects had a contemporary Parisian look, more akin to the "gamins of Montmartre". More recent critics agree with Lemoisne, believing Degas was attempting to "update" his painting.

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Other paintings by Edgar Degas:

Yellow Dancers II
Yellow Dancers II
Young Girl Braiding Her Hair
Young Girl Braiding Her Hair
Young Woman in Street Dress
Young Woman in Street Dress
Young Women Resting in a Field
Young Women Resting in a Field
Edgar DegasEdgar Degas As the son of a wealthy Parisian banking family, Edgar Hilaire Germain Degas originally planned to study law before opting to enter the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1855. His studies there strongly emphasized traditional drawing skills. Degas excelled and his extraordinary draftsmanship became a hallmark of his work. In 1856, Degas traveled extensively throughout Italy where he studied renaissance and classical masterpieces.

As a founding member of the Impressionists, Degas helped to organize the ground-breaking exhibition of 1874, exhibiting 10 of his own pieces in this inaugural show. While historically labeled an Impressionist, Degas preferred the term "Naturalist". He seldom painted en plein- air. Instead preferring to work from sketches and models. The artist once said: "My art has nothing spontaneous about it, it is all reflection." His studies frequently convey an element of psychological tension, offering the viewer intimate vignettes of life in late 19th century Paris. Fascinated with the movement of forms through space, Degas often sketched dancers from the wings of theaters, working in pastel and charcoal to capture his subjects with an unrivaled immediacy. Women dancing or merely engaged in the activities of daily life consistently his favored subject. Scholarship is currently divided as to whether Degas was a misogynist or an early feminist but the raging controversy has yet to dampen enthusiasm for the artist's work.

Degas liked photography so he painted similar to how a camera would capture a picture.