As an artist, Degas didn't paint the traditional historical subjects of his peers. Instead, like many other 'new' artists of his time, he painted daily life. This is one of the reasons his art is grouped among the impressionists, despite his focus on realism.
Being independently wealthy he created what he wanted to. Studied what he wanted and with his impressive social connections he travelled easily in many different levels of society. He also collected other artists works and was constantly learning. He was a truely involved artist.
Thanks to his independence we have a very unique and honest window into the past, which shocked contemporary Paris. The reasons were so typical of the time and we can see through him, his life and art, how different the status of 'woman' has changed and balanced.
Apart from the obvious skill and majesty in his work, I think that this is one of the main reasons for art collectors facination with him and their love of his drawings.
Degas is a great example of how the lives of artists are a particular kind of window in the human world and that of nature. It is said that we see history through the eyes of the victor but here we see history through the eyes of the creator.
He is mounted on a social dias but rejects the conventions that placed him there. Armed with his artists eyes and desire to create. Taking full advantage of the opportunities his status presented, he created. He was ahead of his time but with his feet firmly stuck on the ground and his works create a crack in the lens of the dogma which recorded his world.
Through this view finder we can begin to piece together the dynamism which held together his society and which led to ours. We can see in more than one way, how radically different our society is from the past while also experiencing great art, unshackling us from the conventions of our own world.
There is information on the upcoming exhibition in London here.