Monday, March 12, 2012

Major Degas exhibition opens in Paris

A major exhibition of work by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) opens at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris on Tuesday 13th March.  Degas and the Nude has been organised jointly by the Musée d’Orsay and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Edgar Degas (known as), Hilaire-Germain Edgar de Gas (1834-1917)
Après le bain, femme s’essuyant la nuque
[After the Bath, Woman Drying her Neck], 1895-1898
Pastel on fine vellum paper glued on card, 62.2 x 65 cm, Paris,
Musée d’Orsay, bequest of Count Isaac de Camondo, 1911
© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN / Patrice Schmidt
There's not been a major exhibition devoted to the work of Degas since the 1988 retrospective at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais.  However he was admired as an artist by Bonnard, Matisse and Picasso during their early careers.

About the exhibition - Degas and the nude

The exhibition includes a number of graphic drawings from the Musée d’Orsay collection which are rarely seen due to concerns over their sensitivity to light.  The exhibition also includes paintings on load from great private and public collections - including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery, London and the Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Degas had recurrent themes in his work.  The nude was an important motif but one which until now has not been given the attention it deserves.

Degas painted nudes throughout his career and repeated poses over the decades.
Degas used to say, "One must do the same subject over again ten times, a hundred times".
Thus reviewing his artwork which relates to the nude helps to demonstrate the way in which his artwork evolved, in terms of both technique and style, over the course of his artistic life.
Degas was noted for his innovative temperament, which expressed itself in many different areas. The works brought together here have been selected because they show the variety of techniques that Degas tackled in his search for new expressive possibilities.In addition to drawing and painting, the artist was particularly fond of pastel as it could be used spontaneously with no preparation or drying time, giving him the option to rework the image. Degas was also renowned for having rediscovered the principle of the "monotype", a print that does not require engraving, which he sometimes highlighted with pastel. He also tried his hand at etching, lithography and particularly at sculpture, which increasingly occupied him as his sight failed in the late 1880s.
The exhibition explores the evolution of his approach to the nude.  It has seven sections which follow a chronological order and set out his development over the course of almost 50 years.  These are summarised below but you can read more on the website.  It travels from academic rendition to avant garde approaches to representation of the nude.
  1. The Classical Body: Degas' Early Nudes his early work as a student focuses on studies of classical antiquity.  His first historical composition, Petites filles spartiates provoquant des garçons [Young Spartans exercising], is on special loan from the National Gallery in London.
  2. The Body in Peril: Scene of War in the Middle Ages This section relates to his attempt to produce grand history paintings based on lots of preparatory drawings.  At the end of this period he broke with the Academic style
  3. The Body Exploited: Degas' Brothel Works A series of drawings from the 1870s of prostitutes in a brothel remained largely unknown during his lifetime - mainly due to the subject matter.
  4. The Body Observed: Degas' Naturalist Nudes In the 1870-80s, Degas drew women going about their normal activities associated with the "toilette" - bathing and brushing their hair.  As well as using pastels, this section includes examples of his practice of developing pastels over a faint proof of a monotype.
  5. The Body Exhibited: Degas' Nudes in the 1880s His "suite of female nudes, bathing, washing, drying themselves, wiping themselves, combing their hair or having their hair combed" at the 1886 exhibition demonstrates how Degas used pastel to render elements of the body.  He juxtaposes different strokes of colour to produce the form of the body.  It also includes the wax models which he sculpted in his lifetime and which were only made into bronze sculptures after his death.
  6. The Body Transformed: Degas' Last Nudes  As he grew older, anatomical accuracy became less important to him.  He also studied poses which were hard for a model to hold from his models which he made himself.
  7. The Legacy of Degas' Nudes  the last section is devoted to the legacy Degas left the generations of artists that followed him.
The exhibition continues until 1st July.

I'm thinking of looking up the times of trains to Paris........



  1. Kathryn Do go! I saw it in Boston on the last day! There is so much work that has not been seen before especially the precious brothel monoprints. I wrote it up in my new blog.

  2. Many thanks Diane - your blog post will now be referenced in "who's made a mark this week?" on Sunday


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