Thursday, July 19, 2018

Degas. Born on this day in 1834

Edgar Degas was born on this day in 1834. This work, "The Dance Class," and its variant in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, represent the most ambitious paintings devoted to the theme of the dance.

From the New Yorker: An air of Dickensian tragic irony attends Degas’s last years, when, like an avatar of Marley’s ghost, he dragged the chains of his spent obsessions. He seems to have learned in 1870 that his eyesight was defective. It worsened with age. The condition, which made him painfully sensitive to light, probably played a role in the turn toward tactility in his late works, exploiting memories of visual form that were lodged in his wrist and inner eye. He often worked surfaces with his fingers. The physicality of his charcoals and pastels, after the early eighteen-nineties, positively explodes in strong blacks and blazing colors. He increasingly relies on a motif of the female back, arranged diagonally at an angle from the side, like a raked and tilted shelf. Meanwhile, his sculptures of dancers and horses ride a jet stream of perfect realization, as if less produced than discovered. Degas rarely appeared in public, except at auctions of his art. He stopped working in 1912. In wintry isolation, he survived until 1917, dying at the age of eighty-three.

He never reconciled himself to being thought of as a leader of the impressionist movement although he was one of the most active and powerful members. Degas became renowned for his depictions of modern Parisian women  such as dancers, cafe singers and laundresses. Degas’s style differed from the Impressionists in that he preferred to paint indoors from sketches or memory rather than in the open air, and his work displayed a quality of line, foregoing the characteristic Impressionist detached brush strokes. Known for his keen observation of naturalistic movement, Degas’s realistic style set him apart from his Impressionist contemporaries.

He seems to have believed that an artist can have no private life and his cruel wit alienated most of his friends. His reputation as a curmudgeon was well deserved as was his open Antisemitism. 

From Wikipedia: 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 also fired a model who was Protestant. He remained an outspoken anti-Semite and member of the anti-Semitic "Anti-Dreyfusards" until his death.

1 comment:

Carla Ives said...

Didn't know about the curmudgeon personality trait, nor about his extreme antisemitism. However, despite it all, I love and have always loved his dance works. Those are pretty much the only pieces of his I know, but I seriously adore them. So I guess we have to take him like some of our modern actors. I don't like how they live their life but I like some of their work.