Edgar Degas Blog

Degas, Claude Debussy, Music and the Arts

Feb 15 2012 10:44PM | by Staff Editor

We’ve talked a lot about the impact of music on painting and painting on music. In one of our daily blogs we examined a modern version of this: the grunge musical aesthetic of Seattle, USA, influencing a new generation of grunge artists who focus on the coming of age dramas in a stripped down, bare knuckle type of way. But we’d be mistaken if this was something that started recently. Back in the heyday of Impressionism, composers and artists were much more intimate, indeed even having dinner parties to talk about art and co-inspire each other. This is examined in one recent exhibition, to start from February 22 to June 11 this year at the Musée de l’Orangerie, in Paris, France. The exhibition’s title is fittingly Debussy, Music and the Arts and looks at Claude Debussy, a composer who according to Musée d’Orsay curator Xavier Rey was intimately involved in creating works inspired by art (the exhibition involved Rey, Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie director Guy Cogeval and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique musicologist Jean-Michel Nectoux). The show thus includes 200 artworks that epitomises the Parisian cultural scene during the impressionist years, while also highlighting its link with Debussy’s... Read more

Degas And The Dreyfuss Affair

Jan 22 2012 10:05PM | by Staff Editor

Throughout his life Edgar Degas was known for his argumentative nature, for his at times cruel wit and for his staunch and vehement opinions on political and social issues. Some have even hypothesised that Degas may have deliberately cultivated a reputation as a misanthropic bachelor in order to avoid social interaction. He said himself that, “the artist must live alone, and his private life must remain unknown.” Degas did for the most part live alone and while many aspects of his private life may have remained a mystery, he didn’t hesitate in voicing his private opinions, or indeed in acting on them. Despite his apparent aim of becoming a social pariah, Degas was clearly an active part of the Parisian artistic community until the late 1880s. After all, he was instrumental in the organisation of the First Impressionist Exhibition (some other Impressionists might even have said ‘too instrumental’) and he regularly met with and collaborated with the likes of Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. So in spite of his conservative opinions and antagonistic tendencies, and despite being described by novelist George Moore as an “old curmudgeon”, it seems that Degas was still able to operate as... Read more

Degas’ Drinkers

Jan 10 2012 05:17PM | by Staff Editor

As we all recover from the season of excess and indulgence, numerous New Year’s resolutions to reduce our alcohol intake will have no doubt been made (and will no doubt be broken just as swiftly). If your return to work has hit you with a bang and you’re on the hunt for something to renew your conviction to stay off the hard stuff, few oil paintings have as sobering an effect upon the viewer as Edgar Degas’ L’Absinthe. Sometimes known in English as The Absinthe Drinker or Glass Of Absinthe, the 32 inch by 27 inch oil on canvas artwork was created by Degas between 1875 and 1876, and is now part of the permanent collection at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The painting depicts two figures, a man on the right and a woman in the centre, who are seated at a table of a 19th Century Parisian café. The man wears a scruffy hat and suit, smokes a pipe and stares off to the right of the painting, ignoring both his partner and his coffee on the table before him. The female figure is dressed like a prostitute and she stares vacantly downwards towards the floor with a... Read more

Was Degas Really An Impressionist?

Dec 27 2011 01:54PM | by Staff Editor

Edgar Degas’ name is synonymous with the Impressionist movement and it has been since the artistic group gained prominence in the 1870s. In fact he is listed in most texts as one of the movement’s founding members, but in this post we’re going to take a closer look at the details behind Degas’ involvement with the collective, whether he adhered to the ideals and notions that defined the Impressionists, and perhaps most importantly, whether he considered himself to be one. A year prior to the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874, Degas had returned from a trip to visit his brother in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was suffering from an eye infection that he thought would threaten his artistic career. Soon after he had returned to Paris his father had died, and as a result of the debts uncovered in his father’s estate Degas found himself in a position, for the first time in his life, in which he was dependant on his art sales to generate an income. Degas’ acquaintances Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cezanne had formed the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs (Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and... Read more

The Real Story Behind Degas’ Little Dancer

Dec 25 2011 09:36PM | by Staff Editor

It is Edgar Degas’ most famous sculpture, and it’s the only one that he ever exhibited over the course of his lifetime, but how much do we really know about La Petite Dansuese de Quatorze Ans (Little Dancer Aged Fourteen Years)? Degas completed the original sculpture in 1880, exhibiting at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881. The 28 bronze casts of the sculpture that we hear about today were actually only created after Degas’ death, by his heirs between 1921 and 1938. In fact one failed to sell at a Christie’s auction in New York this past November, partly due to its colossal $35 million estimate. The sculpture that Degas exhibited in 1881 was not bronze but, rather unusually, made from reddish brown wax, moulded over a skeleton made from paintbrushes. He dressed it in real fabrics and even gave it real hair, presenting it inside a glass case. Unlike Degas oil paintings, the statue was not well received by the French critics with some claiming that it resembled a medical specimen and other objecting to its perceived primitive facial features. The model on whom the sculpture is based was Marie Genevieve van Goethem who was a student at the... Read more

No holds barred exhibiting: Degas dancers at the Barre

Nov 30 2011 06:34PM | by Staff Editor

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” - Edgar Degas French Impressionist painter Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas was a lifelong fan of the art form ballet, devoting his life and innumerable oil paintings to capturing the dances, their moves and the music he so adored. For more than 40 years he studied the dancers, onstage, backstage and offstage, becoming a visual stenographer of their every muscle flex and ease. His oeuvre also spilled over from the canvas: the dancers were everywhere, in his pastels, drawings and sculptures, ultimately leading Degas scholars to catalogue more than 1500 pieces of artworks dedicated to what the artist considered the finest of human expression. This sentiment of an undying worship of the dance is the focal point for an exhibition until January 8 in Washington D.C. known as Degas’s Dancers at the Barre: Point and Counterpoint, the first to grace the American capital in a quarter of a century. The exhibition draws its name from what experts consider one of Degas’s best works illustrating dancers: the piece, completed sometime between 1880-1900 (yes, a 20 year gap, we know), is known as the Dancers at the Barre, one of the... Read more

Degas oil painting re-emerges amid rising numbers at exhibition

Nov 20 2011 11:45AM | by Staff Editor

What an interesting couple of weeks it has been for Degas artworks – a lost one was found, his most famous and prized bronze sculpture failed to sell, while a standout exhibition reported higher than expected numbers in a positive outlook for galleries, despite the financial gloom and a cut in household discretionary spending. It is amazing and a testament to the French realist/impressionist that after so many years – 2011 marks 94 years since his death and 177 since his birth – he still possesses the power to inspire and instigate. So let’s take a look at Blanchisseuses souffrant des dents or Laundry Women with Toothache, which while not a classic, is still an important Degas painting. The Degas oil painting was stolen in 1973 from the Havre Museum in Normandy, where it had been stored by the Louvre since 1960. This month it turned up at a Sotheby’s auction in the U.S., but it was immediately removed from sale once a member of the Havre Museum saw the advanced catalogue and alerted authorities. Sotheby’s had listed the price of the oil painting at USD $350,000-450,000 for sale in its then upcoming sale of impressionist art. A French official... Read more

Paint like Degas: life drawing, colour and ravishing nudity

Oct 30 2011 10:44AM | by Staff Editor

Degas and naked forms is like bread and butter, sweet and sour, fries with your cheeseburger and soy sauce with your sushi. The one has to have the other, and the latest exhibition focusing on Degas paintings makes no attempt to cover up, if you’d excuse the pun. Named simply as Degas and the Nude, the unabashedly bare exhibition is on from now until February 5 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, United States of America, before it moves to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Exhibition goers should be prepared to answer one question: what is the difference between nude and naked? Critics have praised the show for skilfully showing Degas’ skill in displaying the realism of the female form. The naked figure was a large part of the Degas oeuvre, right from the start of his career in the 1850s until the end of his life. The artworks on display mark each major milestone of his artistic career; the exhibition itself is a bit of a milestone, considering it was the culmination of three years of planning between the two museums. As Art of Europe and Arthur K. Solomon Curator of Modern Art at the MFA chairman George... Read more

Degas nudes and Degas horses

Oct 18 2011 09:36AM | by Staff Editor

French painter Edgar Degas is most well known for his paintings of bathing nudes, horse races and the dancers and ballerinas of French high society. Heck, even his brief foray into sculptures of dancers has left an indelible mark on art history. One example is a bronze cast of his most famous work Little Dance Aged Fourteen, which will be auctioned on November 1. It is expected to fetch at anywhere from USD $25-35 million; the extraordinary thing is that this bronze statue is one of 28. That’s right, one of 28 cast after the artist died in 1917. The popularity Degas enjoys can also be seen in an exhibition Degas and the nude currently at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston until February 5. As the name suggest, the exhibition explores Degas and the naked feminine form. To starkly illustrate Degas’ interest, curators amassed more than 145 Degas artworks, including his classic paintings, pastels, preparatory drawings and sculptures. Also included are exemplary works on the female form from artists before him, with the goal to trace an evolutionary path as to why Degas was so revolutionary in his treatment of female nudity. In short, and if you want to... Read more

Degas paintings, ballet and picturing movement

Oct 02 2011 11:40AM | by Staff Editor

Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas was born in Paris, France, in 1834. His dad was a banker, which meant the life of a struggling artist was not his destiny. Rather, Degas could afford to take holidays to French New Orleans, and self-funded trips to Italy and other parts of Europe where he would copy the masters. His career is normally dissected into two main parts by art historians: 1865 to 1870, where he consistently submitted large historical paintings to the Salon, most of which were rejected. The second part of his career started about 1870, when he switched themes and started to focus on modern issues, including dancers and everyday people such as restaurant staff. It was at this time that he also started exhibiting with the Impressionists, but instead of displaying landscape works, his impressions were of the ballet dancers he so adored. The ballet dancers and the Degas paintings and artwork that captured them are the focus of the latest Degas exhibition, entitled Degas and Ballet: Picturing Movement, held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. The exhibition has already been widely hailed as a fresh and engaging approach to the venerated master, with curators Richard Kendall (Curator at... Read more

Degas - the Private Impressionist

Sep 18 2011 06:45PM | by Staff Editor

By all accounts, French Impressionist Edgar Degas (although he maintains he was a realist) was a private man. Hence, the natural question arises: what did he get up to in the privacy of his own home? He never married, rarely went out socially, and towards the end of his life severed some of his closest and oldest friendships during the Dreyfuss Affair years. One thing we know for sure was that he did a lot of sketching and compositions for his famous Degas paintings. And this winter (for the northern hemisphere folk), one special exhibition takes us behind the scenes. The Portland Museum of Art will hold the exhibition “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist” from February 23, 2012, to May 27, 2012. The exhibition is special because for the first time, a majority of Degas paintings and artwork from private collections will be exhibited publicly. The exhibition features more than 100 prints, drawings, photographs and pastels. It will also include several bronze casted sculptures, providing lucky viewers the chance to view the result of 80 years of dedicated collection. Particularly of note are cherished prints and drawings of friends and family, including intimate depictions of his father, his brother Achille,... Read more

Edgar Degas, plaster casts and fears of litigation

Sep 04 2011 09:21PM | by Staff Editor

When is an Edgar Degas sculpture not an Edgar Degas sculpture? The answer to the riddle, in this case, seems to be whether experts agree or disagree. So is the current situation for a group of alleged Degas bronze sculptures that have never been seen (widely) before. But just because something lacks provenance doesn’t mean it isn’t authentic. Or is it? So here’s the fascinating story about 73 previously unknown plaster casts that were created from wax originals sculpted by Degas. To be absolutely clear, the authenticity of the 73 sculptures has highly divided academic opinion. Several prominent Degas and European art specialists believe the sculptures to be authentic, while an equal number, if not more, believe the sculptures to be inauthentic. What is critical to understand is that the provenance of the 73 works is severely lacking. Degas’s only public showing of a sculpture was in 1881, when he exhibited The Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer, which was only shown again in 1920. The rest of the sculptural works remained private until a posthumous exhibition in 1918; the works exhibited there were 74 sculptures found in Degas’s studio after his death (from a total of 150 wax sculptures, the... Read more

Have your Degas painting and a raspberry cake too

Aug 07 2011 10:21PM | by Staff Editor

July 19 marked the birthday of one special man we cherish on this website, Edgar Degas. Just 177 years ago, the painter Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas entered this world in Paris, France. Known for his sardonic wit and antisocial tendencies, we’re sure he would have loved to know that his birthday is also the American National Raspberry Cake Day and the American National Caviar Day (industry scions obviously missed the clash). In the history of the world other significant events have also occurred on Mr Degas’s birth: the Rosetta Stone was found in 1799, while allied forces started to bomb Rome in 1943. Leaving behind this historical detour, we’d now like to draw your attention to a special Degas-Rembrandt exhibition starting October 23, 2011. Anyone lucky to find themselves in Holland at the end of October this year should make their way to Rembrandt van Rijn’s Rijksmuseum. The museum will host the “Two Young Artists” exhibition, featuring more than 20 self-portraits from Degas and Rembrandt in the early part of their careers. Through viewing the portraits side-by-side, exhibition curators hope to illuminate the links between the two artists, which are not immediately obvious. Rembrandt was the 17th-century Dutch painter associated with... Read more

A Radical Approach to Movement

Jul 24 2011 09:55PM | by Staff Editor

When people think of Degas paintings, images of pretty ballet dancers spring and bound forth. Art aficionados make the easy association of the artist and an almost obsessive preoccupation with ballerinas. However, at the Royal Academy in the United Kingdom, an exhibition takes a different frilled wrinkle: the artist’s unprecedented approach to capturing movement. Never before has an exhibition looked at Degas’ relationship with still photography and film. Developing technologies at the time, they clearly influenced the way Degas paintings evolved. Paintings often rely on poses: frozen, static, with all the havoc of a bowl of fruit. Now think about how a painter would capture action. The vibrancy and fluidity vanishes before the tip of the brush touches canvas, so unless one has a pristine photographic memory, the nuances of movement evaporate. Eddie Izzard, a UK comedian, makes a joke about how in the past, tapestry makers tried vainly to create grand images of battle… in the midst of the fighting. “In modern days,” he said in his show, Stripped Live, “we’ve seen films, maybe it’s not visceral, but you could get a very good visual sense of what has gone on in the past. Back in the Battle of... Read more

French feminism and Edgar Degas – you might be surprised

Jul 11 2011 12:00PM | by Staff Editor

Edgar Degas was a notoriously private and politically conservative man. He was perhaps the most outspoken anti-Semite of the Impressionist artists, and a staunch anti-Dreyfusard at the height of the Dreyfus Affair. It would therefore be a bit stupefying to consider him a champion of women’s rights, but that’s precisely what some scholars have sought to do through the analysis of his artwork. One widely recognised strand of feminist analysis in relation to Degas artwork was set forth by Norma Broude in The Art Bulletin (1988). Two Degas paintings and a series of brothel monotypes were examined within the framework of broad support for French feminism in the 1880s. But are the proposals valid? The study of one Degas painting, The Young Spartans, is particularly fascinating. The traditional view is that the painting depicts a group of male and female Spartans before an athletic competition; Sparta at the time was considered an egalitarian society as men and women were often encouraged to compete as equals, especially in physical feats. But is that interpretation too convenient and simple? According to Broude, Spartan law at the time meant the girls were challenging the boys to a race (as evidenced by the lunging... Read more

Traveling to Louisiana? Check Out the Degas House

May 24 2011 11:45AM | by Staff Editor

Between 1872 and 1873, the painter Edgar Degas called New Orleans, Louisiana his home. He was visiting his maternal relatives; his mother and grandmother were both born in New Orleans. In 1993, the Degas Foundation purchased the house Degas lived and worked in, and it's been turned into a bed and breakfast as well as a Degas museum. During his time in New Orleans, Degas painted several iconic images, including Portraits in a New Orleans Cotton Office, which shows his uncle in the foreground, checking the cotton. This painting was shown in the second exhibition held by the Impressionists in 1876. A museum purchased the Degas painting in 1878, making it the first Degas painting purchased by a museum. As part of its mission, the Degas Foundation works to educate the public about the works Degas produced during his time in New Orleans. They hold painting classes at the Degas House, and encourage art students to visit to learn more about Degas and how he worked. A relative of Degas also provided guided tours, upon request. The Degas House is also a bed-and-breakfast facility, featuring state-of-the-art amenities such as WiFi access and flat-screen televisions. Guests are served a Creole breakfast... Read more

The Influence of Japanese Prints on Paintings by Degas

May 03 2011 09:14AM | by Staff Editor

Paintings by Edgar Degas are known for their intimacy. Viewers often seem to be looking in on a very private moment, observing people when they are not quite ready or prepared to be observed. Degas paintings achieve this feeling, in part, due to the poses of the figures. But the unique cropping contained in paintings by Degas may also play a role. In the 1860s, Degas began to study and collect Japanese woodblock prints (also called ukiyo-e). While woodblock printing originated in Europe, the art form flourished in Japan. Artists used unique angles, such as viewing scenes from high above, or cropping out the ground, to give the viewer a sense of looking through a window at only part of a much larger scene. Planes were flattened with no dimensions evident, to make clear that these were images generated by people and not by mechanical methods. Colors were prominent, but the sense of line in Japanese woodblock prints plays a strong role. It's interesting that Degas would study this sort of art form. As an Impressionist painter, Degas paintings often do not contain sharp lines and black outlines. Instead, the colors tend to flow together. Impressionist painters often depict rivers... Read more

Stolen Painting by Degas Recovered

Apr 26 2011 10:44AM | by Staff Editor

Criminals take note: If you steal a painting, don't try to sell it later. In 1973, criminals stole the Degas painting Laundry Woman with a Toothache from the Havre Museum in France, where it was on loan from the Louvre. While an investigation was immediately started, authorities were unable to determine who had stolen the painting, and where the painting was located since it was stolen. Laundry Woman with a Toothache is a small painting, but it is considered quite an important Degas painting. Unlike many of the Degas ballerina paintings, Laundry Woman with a Toothache is painted with a tight focus. Only the heads and faces of the two women are shown. During this time period, Degas was working to capture the look and feel of the working people in France, and often depicted workers seeming tired or ill. Degas painted many images of laundry workers. In Laundry Girls Ironing, for example, one girl bends over her work, while another stretches out her back. It's easy to see why these stretches would be needed, as the ironing looks hard and arduous. In a Laundry shows the workers on a rare break, resting and smoking. They seem exhausted here. Laundry... Read more

The Role of Sculpture in Degas Paintings

Apr 10 2011 05:19PM | by Staff Editor

Edgar Degas was a physical painter. Through his paintings, Degas attempted to give human forms weight and depth. He often painted his models standing in awkward positions, shifting weight from one foot to the other, stepping out of the bathtub, adjusting clothing or fixing hair. The models may look uncomfortable or even gangly, but they always look realistic, as though they could spin directly out of the paintings at a moment's notice. Degas was able to model his paintings so accurately, in part, because he was an adept sculptor. Degas often began sculptures in wax or clay, attempting to portray how models would truly stand or sit, before he began painting. Consider Ballet Dancers in the Wings by Degas. Here, the Degas dancers stretch and bend in what is typically a private moment. No attempt is given here to make the dancers seem graceful or otherworldly. Instead, they point their toes. They rest their heads in their hands. They stretch and support their weight on the walls. Their proportions are perfect, and their bodies seem weighted and accurate. In Dance Class at the Opera, students once again stretch and bend through their exercises. While some dancers are in formal, accurate... Read more