Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Edgar Degas - Odd Man Out

Edgar Degas, Two Dancers on a Stage, 1874
(The Courtland Gallery, London)
"Art is Vice. You don't marry it.  You rape it.  Whoever says Art says Artifice."   Edgar Degas

I grew up with a print of this painting hanging on my wall.  To me it represented everything that was elegant and lovely.  I went to bed dreaming I would be just like these ballerinas when I grew up.  Ignorance is bliss?  Maybe, maybe not... It is hard to reconcile my little girl dreams with the above quote...

Although Degas was friends and exhibited with the impressionists, in reality he hated improvised compositions, rapid brushwork and plein air painting.  He believed that art is artifice; it should be based on the real world but not be an exact replica of it. He set his compositions with deliberate arrangements.  Due to a problem with his eyes, he was extremely sensitive to light and could not paint outdoors.

Edgar Degas, Portrait of Monseuir and Madame Eduoard Manet,1868-1869  

Degas thought of himself as the artist-journalist and the scenes he depicted were little snapshots of life in the streets of Paris, at the ballet, the cafes and the races. Similar to Manet, he was the quintessential flaneur, going around, observing and making commentary about the spectacle that was Paris and its inhabitants.  He painted mostly interiors and very few landscapes, aside from horse races.  Three quarter of his work was about women, he was obsessed with them but never married.  He was also known to be a misogynistic and anti-semitic.  Even though he had some odd notions, the ambiguity and the sense of disconnect present in his work and his unique perspectives are so intriguing that one can't help but be fascinated with him.

Edgar Degas, The Green Dancer, 1880
(Thyssen Bornemizsa Museum, Madrid)

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