entry for Degas is the best overview I've read.
His art was produced with planning and slow deliberation. He seems quite the opposite of van Gogh, who worked (although with direction and forethought) very quickly.
Degas' freshness of color I attribute to his masterful use of the pastel medium. Many aren't aware that he worked in pastel, given the popularity of oil paint among the Impressionists. As a matter of fact, Degas was very progressive in his use of media. He painted in oil and pastel, was a sculptor, a printmaker, and was an early practitioner of photography.
Pastel, however, is the hallmark media of Degas' legacy. He is considered to be the greatest figure in pastel's pantheon of artists, given his advancement of the medium at an historical turning point in art history.
A born Parisienne, Degas studied art in France, but also made a pilgrimage to Italy for study in classical principles of art. He is also noted for having traveled to New Orleans, in the U.S.
Additionally, the great artist lived 83 years, and never married. It is sad to read of his eyesight degeneration, and to imagine how he was supposed to have wandered, near his death, aimlessly on the streets of Paris.
Degas was part of a movement of artists who spanned the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, and whose vision would replace allegory and morality in artistic subject, with modernist realism and what has been described as artistic "looking" at man.
Towards the latter part of his long career, he did loosen up his sense of detail, and began to value the abstract qualities of his paintings a little more. He was a studio artist, preferring to work from studies and memory.
Degas had his fair share of difficulty dealing with his public. "Why do you paint women so ugly, Monsieur Degas?" he was once asked by a hostess. "Parce que la femme en general est laide, madame, " came the reply. "Because, madam, women in general are ugly."
And to print this on International Women's Day! He had his uncouth way of acting, as many life-long bachelors do. In point of fact, his female nudes and figures did not suffer from sympathy or idealization. To his credit, he created new and fresh figurative works that respect the actual forms, presence and gestures of mankind. And he did it in a colorist fashion, as the incredible The Green Singer, demonstrates.
I like the idea that he did not destroy the past, in the so-called avant-garde way, but rather built upon it.
I recommend Expo-Degas for an online collection of his art.
I very much recommend the following article by Robert Hughes, for a highly opinionated criticism of the artist's life and work.
The only book I own about the paragon of pastel is: Degas by Himself, Richard Kendall. Does anyone out there recommend a good monograph of Degas?