Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Edgar Degas - Portrait of Henri Michel-Levy

Edgar Degas, Portrait of Henri Michel-Levy, 1878-1879
(Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal)
Degas was known to exchange portraits with his artist friends. This is a portrait of his friend, Henri Michel-Levy, although here, he is not represented as an artist dominating over his studio.  Instead of the traditional way of depicting him working at his easel, Degas has him leaning against the wall with his hands in his pockets.  We can deduce this space is Henri Michel-Levy's studio because the paintings on the walls are known to be his  paintings.   Only the box open in the front with a pallet and  brushes attests to his profession as an artist.  Upon closer inspection, the odd shaped mannequin by the artist's side on the floor can be picked out as the figure in the painting hanging on the left. This is Degas' way of reinforcing how artist's setup their compositions by using artifice plus the fact that these paintings were made in the studio, using props and not in plen air with real models. 

The influence of Japonism is apparent because the objects in the foreground transition the viewer into the painting as can be found in Japanese prints.  In this painting the pallet and brushes are the first objects the viewer encounters before observing Degas' choice of the subject represented off-center in an odd angle.

This little painting, Portrait of Henri Michel-Levy, might be taken as the perfect visual example of Degas' theory of art being artifice. 

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