Friday, July 19, 2013

Happy Birthday Edgar



Edgar Degas (19 July 1834 – 27 September 1917), was a French artist famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist. A superb draftsman, he is especially identified with the subject of the dance, and over half of his works depict dancers.


Degas is often identified as an Impressionist, an understandable but insufficient description. Impressionism originated in the 1860s and 1870s and grew, in part, from the realism of such painters as Courbet and Corot. The Impressionists painted the realities of the world around them using bright, "dazzling" colors, concentrating primarily on the effects of light, and hoping to infuse their scenes with immediacy. (wikipedia)


Technically, Degas differs from the Impressionists in that he "never adopted the Impressionist color fleck", and he continually belittled their practice of painting en plein air. "He was often as anti-impressionist as the critics who reviewed the shows", according to art historian Carol Armstrong; as Degas himself explained, "no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing." Nonetheless, he is described more accurately as an Impressionist than as a member of any other movement. His scenes of Parisian life, his off-center compositions, his experiments with color and form, and his friendship with several key Impressionist artists—most notably Mary Cassatt and Édouard Manet—all relate him intimately to the Impressionist movement.


Degas, who believed that "the artist must live alone, and his private life must remain unknown", lived an outwardly uneventful life. In company he was known for his wit, which could often be cruel. He was characterized as an "old curmudgeon" by the novelist George Moore, and he deliberately cultivated his reputation as a misanthropic bachelor. Profoundly conservative in his political opinions, he opposed all social reforms and found little to admire in such technological advances as the telephone. He fired a model upon learning she was Protestant. Although Degas painted a number of Jewish subjects from 1865 to 1870, his anti-Semitism became apparent by the mid-1870s. His 1879 painting At The Bourse is widely regarded as strongly anti-Semitic, with the facial features of the banker taken directly from the anti-Semitic cartoons rampant in Paris at the time.


The Dreyfus Affair, which divided Paris from the 1890s to the early 1900s, further intensified his anti-Semitism. By the mid-1890s, he had broken off relations with all of his Jewish friends, publicly disavowed his previous friendships with Jewish artists, and refused to use models who he believed might be Jewish. He remained an outspoken anti-Semite and member of the anti-Semitic "Anti-Dreyfusards" until his death.


Degas' mature style is distinguished by conspicuously unfinished passages, even in otherwise tightly rendered paintings. He frequently blamed his eye troubles for his inability to finish, an explanation that met with some skepticism from colleagues and collectors who reasoned, as Stuckey explains, that "his pictures could hardly have been executed by anyone with inadequate vision." The artist provided another clue when he described his predilection "to begin a hundred things and not finish one of them," and was in any case notoriously reluctant to consider a painting complete.

During his life, public reception of Degas's work ranged from admiration to contempt but now he is regarded as one of the most important artists of the 19th century. Although Degas had no formal pupils, he greatly influenced several important painters, most notably Jean-Louis Forain, Mary Cassatt, and Walter Sickert; his greatest admirer may have been Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. (From Wikipedia)

On a personal note, his reputation is sullied, for me, by his extreme bigotry and misanthropy. This is another case when I have to put aside my beliefs to appreciate his art, respecting his achievements while abhorring his beliefs.

Degas links: http://www.linesandcolors.com/2013/07/19/double-degas-eye-candy-for-today/

http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/436155

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dgsp/hd_dgsp.htm

http://www.nortonsimon.org/edgar-degas/

http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/degas/

2 comments:

soifollowjulian.com said...

I too have a hard time separating the artist from his beliefs. It's a lot easier to do when they are dead. I just recently discovered one of my favorite contemporary writers is homophobic so now I won't buy his books anymore. It makes me sad, but I don't want to give him any of my money.

The first Edgar I thought of was Edgar Allen Poe. I'm so happy that he was not an anti-Semite.

nancy namaste said...

I know what you mean-I find that the older I get, the less tolerant I am of these kinds of bigotry. They do such harm. The Dreyfus affair divided France for decades. Reading about it is fascinating but also, sad as those who continued to blame Dreyfus also collaborated with the Nazis in sending Jews to the gas chamber. It was an "affair" with long tentacles.