Tuesday 6 September 2011

Edgar Degas - part 1

I thought I’d take a look at French artist Edgar Degas to coincide with a major exhibition of his work at London’s Royal Academy of Art that opens 17 September until 11 December 2011.
Royal Academy: “In the autumn of 2011 the Royal Academy of Arts will stage a landmark exhibition focusing on Edgar Degas’s preoccupation with movement as an artist of the dance. Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement will trace the development of the artist's ballet imagery throughout his career, from the documentary mode of the early 1870s to the sensuous expressiveness of his final years.

The exhibition will be the first to present Degas’s progressive engagement with the figure in movement in the context of parallel advances in photography and early film; indeed, the artist was keenly aware of these technological developments and often directly involved with them.”

Self-portrait c1855-6

This is part 1 of a 3-part post on the works of Degas – parts 1 and 2 showing a selection of his numerous ballet subjects, part 3 – other works.

Edgar Degas is usually classed with the impressionists, and he exhibited with them in seven of the eight impressionist exhibitions. However, his training in classical drafting and his dislike of painting directly from nature produced a style that represented a related alternative to impressionism.

Degas was born in Paris in 1834 into a well-to-do banking family. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts under a disciple of the famous French classicist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, where Degas developed the great drawing ability that was to be a salient characteristic of his art.
After 1865, under the influence of the budding impressionist movement, he gave up academic subjects to turn to contemporary themes. But, unlike the impressionists, he preferred to work in the studio and was uninterested in the study of natural light that fascinated them. He was attracted by theatrical subjects, and most of his works depict racecourses, theatres, cafés, music halls, or boudoirs.

His study of Japanese prints led him to experiment with unusual visual angles and asymmetrical compositions. His subjects often appear cropped at the edges, as in Ballet Rehearsal (1876, Glasgow Art Galleries and Museum).

1876 Ballet Rehearsal

In the early 1870s the female ballet dancer became his favourite theme. He sketched from a live model in his studio and combined poses into groupings that depicted rehearsal and performance scenes in which dancers on stage, entering the stage, and resting or waiting to perform are shown simultaneously and in counterpoint, often from an oblique angle of vision.

On a visit in 1872 to Louisiana, where he had relatives in the cotton business, he painted The Cotton Exchange at New Orleans (finished 1873), his only picture to be acquired by a museum in his lifetime.

1873 A Cotton Office in New Orleans

In the 1880s, when his eyesight began to fail, Degas began increasingly to work in two new media that did not require intense visual acuity: sculpture and pastel. In his sculpture, as in his paintings, he attempted to catch the action of the moment, and his ballet dancers and female nudes are depicted in poses that make no attempt to conceal their subjects' physical exertions.

His pastels are usually simple compositions containing only a few figures. He was obliged to depend on vibrant colors and meaningful gestures rather than on precise lines and careful detailing, but, in spite of such limitations, these works are eloquent and expressive and have a simple grandeur unsurpassed by any of his other works. Personally speaking, I find Degas' drawings and pastels  his superior works.

In 1881 he exhibited a sculpture, Little Dancer (a bronze casting of which is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), and as his eyesight failed thereafter he turned increasingly to sculpture, modeling figures and horses in wax over metal armatures. These sculptures remained in his studio in disrepair and were cast in bronze only after his death.

Little Dancer aged Fourteen bronze

 Degas was not well known to the public, and his true artistic stature did not become evident until after his death. He died in Paris in 1917.

1870s Dancer at the Photographer's

1871 Dance Class

1873 Dance School

1873-74 Dancer adjusting her Slipper

1874 Ballet Rehearsal on the Set

1874 Dance Class

1874 Dancer

1876-77 Dancers Practicing at the Bar

1876-77 The Star

1877-80 Dancer Stretching at the Bar

1878-80 Ballet Scene

1879-80 Sitting Dancer

1880 The Dance Examination

1881 Ballet Class

1882-85 Tired Dancer

1885 Ballet, Seen from the Loge

1886-90 Dancers Climbing a Stair

1888 Before the Ballet

1890 Blue Dancers

1890 Two Dancers

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.