I braved a half-hour wait in the rain to see the exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay Degas et le nu on one of its last days (it runs until July 1, 2012). The exhibit shows the evolution of Edgar Degas’ treatment of the human figure, from his earliest days as a student doing academic studies to his later bathers, like the one being photographed by a museum staffer, above. Degas was an expert in multiple media, painting, drawings, print-making, and sculpture but it is probably his pastels that are the highest expression of his talent. In addition to rarely displayed works on paper that belong to the d’Orsay (exposure to light damages them), the exhibit features painting from many large U.S. museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Met in New York, and, from my own backyard, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
I was struck by the work and re-work that went into each painting. For example, an early painting about war was composed of multiple figures. Alongside the painting were displayed the sketches of each of figure. He usually executed three sketches of each person in the paintings, even though he ultimately abandoned some of them, despite all that time and effort. The exhibition also highlighted his dedication to a few select themes, notably dancers and prostitutes grooming themselves, which he returned to over and over again, endlessly refining his style. I liked how the exhibit showed paintings that were known to have inspired Degas, as well as those by artists that he had inspired. The juxtaposition of the similar theme executed in a different style was highly effective.
Degas’ attention to detail is highlighted in today’s quotation. He said, “Rien en art ne doit pas ressembler à un accident, même le mouvement” (reen en ar nuh dwa pah re-sem-blay ah uhn ak-see-dehn, mem luh moovmehn), which means “Nothing in art should resemble an accident, even movement.” If you can’t get there in person before it closes, the museum’s information on the exhibit includes a short video that gives an overview of the highlights.
- Foothills Art Center lands exhibit of Degas drawings (denverpost.com)
- Friendship, love & quarrels: Tissot and his friends Degas, Manet & Morisot, 1869 (thehammocknovel.wordpress.com)
- The Painted Girls: Degas and the Dancers (americangirlsartclubinparis.wordpress.com)