View Full Version : Masters of Pastels – December 2004

A Few Pigments
12-01-2004, 11:26 AM
This month the subject of study is Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas. There is so much information and so many paintings on the web I decided to just list his works with pastels, although this is not a complete listing. . His oil paintings are available at the sites listed below as well. So, have fun, and I hope no one gets eyestrain from wading through all these sites.

Edgar Germain Hilaire Degas
Born 1834, Died 1917
French Realist/Impressionist Painter and Sculptor,
Painter, Photographer, Draftsman
1863, Degas, Self-Portrait, oil.
“No art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament . . . I know nothing,” claimed Edgar Degas. From a wealthy Parisian family, Degas devoted himself exclusively to painting without needing to sell a canvas. His training was conventional: he spent five years in Italy, studied the Old Masters in the Louvre, and trained under one of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ students at the École des Beaux-Arts. Fellow Impressionist Berthe Morisot remembered him saying that the study of nature was meaningless, since the art of painting was a question of conventions, and that it was by far the best thing to learn drawing from Hans Holbein.
By the mid-1860s Degas was turning to modern themes, particularly contemporary Parisian life. Unlike other Impressionists, he emphasized composition and drawing, and he usually did not paint outdoors. Degas was primarily concerned with depicting movement, from horses to women in various guises—dressing, bathing, and as cabaret performers. He painted the first of his ballet dancers around 1873. Almost blind for his last twenty years, Degas worked mostly in pastel with increasingly broad, free handling. He also made wax sculptures that were posthumously cast in bronze.

Museums and Public Art Galleries:
Artcyclopedia: http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/degas_edgar.html This is the site I used for finding all things Degas on the www.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: http://www.mfa.org/artemis/fullrecord.asp?oid=34375&did=500
1869, Cliffs on the Edge of the Sea, Pastel on paper, 17 3/8 x 23 in.

Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design: http://www.risd.edu/museum_print_collect.cfm?Choice2=Museum&Choice=Print
1877-80, Dancer with a Bouquet, pastel and black chalk over monotype and gouache on paper, 15 7/8" x 19 7/8". Image 12 on the page.

New Orleans Museum of Art: http://www.noma.org/html_docs/pd.html
Dancer in Green, pastel on paper

Portland Museum of Art online gallery: http://www.portlandmuseum.org/pysn.htm
1877, The Dancing Lesson, pastel over monoprint on paper, 23 x 28-5/8"

Oskar Reinhart Collection, Switzerland: http://www.kultur-schweiz.admin.ch/sor/gallerie/frim.htm
1878-79, Danseuse dans son loge Um, Pastell Gouache

Museum of Modern Art, New York City - Provenance Research Project: http://www.moma.org/collection/provenance/items/141.57.html
1882, At the Milliner's, Pastel on paper, 27 5/8 x 27 3/4" (70.2 x 70.5 cm)

Tate: http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cgroupid=999999961&workid=3697&searchid=14796
1879, Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando, Pastel on paper support: 610 x 476 mm

Tate: http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cgroupid=999999961&workid=3699&searchid=14796
1880-85, Bed-Time, Pastel and print on paper support: 229 x 445 mm

Tate: http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cgroupid=999999961&workid=3706&searchid=14796
1883, Woman in a Tub, Pastel on paper support: 700 x 700 mm

Tate: http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cgroupid=999999961&workid=3698&searchid=14796
1894, Woman at her Toilet, Charcoal and pastel on paper support: 956 x 1099 mm

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum: Madrid: http://www.museothyssen.org/Ingles/museovirtual/framesuperior/asp/frame2.asp?destino=catalogo
1877-1879 Swaying Dancer (Dancer in Green), Pastel and gouache on paper. 64 x 36 cm. You’ll have to do a search for Degas here.
1894, Race Horses in a Landscapeng, Pastel on paper, 47,9 x 62,8 cm. You’ll have to do a search for Degas here.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: http://www.mfa.org/artemis/fullrecord.asp?oid=31827&did=500
about 1900, Dancers in Rose, Pastel on paper, 84.1 x 58.1 cm (33 1/8 x 22 7/8 in.)

Princeton University Art Museum: http://www.princetonartmuseum.org/curators/pop_coll_cura.cfm?idImages=79
1899, Dancers, Pastel with charcoal on tracing paper, mounted on cream wove paper, 58.8 x 46.3 cm.

Pictures from Image Archives:
The Athenaeum: http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/by_artist.php?id=144 512 works listed. This is the mother of all Degas web sites. The medium used for each work is listed on each page so just scroll through the pages to find the pastel paintings.

Art Renewal Center: Page 1 http://www.artrenewal.org/asp/database/art.asp?aid=46 Page 2 http://www.artrenewal.org/asp/database/art.asp?aid=46&page=2 Page 3 http://www.artrenewal.org/asp/database/art.asp?aid=46&page=3 Page 4 http://www.artrenewal.org/asp/database/art.asp?aid=46&page=4

Artchive: http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1869-72, Jockeys Before the Race, Oil, essence, with touches of pastel on paper, 42 1/8 x 28 3/4 in. (107 x 73 cm) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1877, Cabaret, Pastel over monotype on paper, 9 1/2 x 17 1/2 in. (24.1 x 44.5 cm) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1878, Singer with a Glove, Pastel and liquid medium on canvas, 20 3/4 x 16 in. (52.8 x 41.1 cm) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1878, L'etoile OR La danseuse sur la scene (The Star OR Dancer on Stage), Pastel on paper, 23 5/8 x 17 3/8 in. (60 x 44 cm) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1879, Portrait de M. Duranty, Tempera and pastel on canvas, 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in (100.6 x 100.6 cm) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1879, After the Bath, Monotype in black ink on china paper, heightened with pastel, 8 1/4 x 6 1/4 in. (21 x 15.9 cm) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1879-80, Seated Dancer (Danseuse assise), Charcoal and pastel on paper mounted on pasteboard, 25 x 19 1/8 in. (63.5 x 48.7 cm.) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1880, The Dance Examination, Pastel and charcoal on paper, 24 15/16 x 18 15/16 in. (63.4 x 48.2 cm) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1882, Milliners, Pastel on paper, 19 x 27 in. (48.3 x 68.6 cm) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1885, The Baker's Wife, Pastel on paper, 26 3/8 x 20 1/2 in. (67 x 52.1 cm) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1885, Girl Drying Herself, Pastel on paper, 31 1/2 x 20 1/8 in. (80.1 x 51.2 cm) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1885-1888, Race Horses, Pastel on panel, 11 7/8 x 16 in. http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1886, Woman Combing Her Hair, Pastel on cardboard, 21 x 20 1/2 in. (53 x 52 cm) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1889, Woman at Her Toilette, Pastel on paper, 23 x 23 1/2 in. (59 x 60 cm) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html
1900, Ballet Dancers in the Wings, Pastel on paper, 28 x 26 in. (71.1 x 66 cm) http://www.artchive.com/artchive/ftptoc/degas_ext.html

Cgfa http://cgfa.sunsite.dk/degas/index.html Six pastels and bio, including a self portrait in oil.

Roland Collection of Videos and Films on Art: Degas' Dancers, (The entire film can be viewed online!): http://www.roland-collection.com/rolandcollection/section/28/410.htm Download the Mpeg1 to your hard drive or watch the movie on the site.
In this film, as in other key titles in the Roland Collection, a meeting takes place between several media: the dance of Degas' subject matter, the dynamism of his draftsmanship, the drama of the score by Marius Constant, and the exploratory and expressive direction of the film-maker's camera work. The elements are mutually illuminating. Degas anticipates photographic and filmic qualities in his use of light and the `verism' of his cropping and composition. The dancers `draw' and compose in space, transposing music into visual form, which is in turn reinterpreted in the score, synchronized with Anthony Roland's moving, extemporizing camera work. This film, like others in the collection, collaborates with its subject in a way that complements and perhaps challenges more cerebral, analytical films in this and other sections. Where a more conventional narrator might hasten to make a didactic point about Degas - for example, about the frequent misery of girls forced into the `marriage market' of ballet training - this film, with no narration, respects the silence and inscrutability of the artist's images. It permits us a slower, more meditative entry into the pictures, during which we may indeed come to sense tensions, ambivalences, even pain, existing simultaneously with delicacy and beauty. There is no narration.

12-01-2004, 11:35 PM
Cool! Degas has always been one of my favorite artists(I have a strong leaning towards the work of the Impressionists). I can't wait to really sink my teeth into all of the websites and really look at his work again. I love the way he would compose the figures within his paintings- you get the feeling that they are just walking into or out of the frame of the painting. Quick story:When I was in high school, I took a field trip to the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. At the time they had a copy(I suppose, I do not think that it was the original) of the sculpture "Little FOurteen Year Old Dancer". It amazed me that he could capture both awkwardness and gracefulness all at the same time in the same figure. By far one of my favorite pieces of art. I look forward to trying a project in the style of his artist, though I suspect the experience may for me be a humbling one!
Thanks again.

A Few Pigments
12-02-2004, 03:41 AM
Hi Dalfonzo,

It’s good to see a new face in this thread. I agree with you about the way he composed the figures within his paintings. I wonder how much his paintings were influenced by his sculptures and vice versa. His sculptures seem to have a painterly quality about them.

Have fun doing some of his paintings even though it may be humbling it’s a great way to learn how the great ones did it. I’ll pick out something to have a go at this month, while I try to finish up the two from last month.

12-03-2004, 06:57 AM
Bruce, thank you for opening the December MoP!

I made my own copy of a Degas pastel, 'Le Tub', when I had only been pastelling for about two weeks. I saw the picture on the Musée d'Orsay website and fell instantly in love with it, so I ordered a print and worked from that, hoping to learn something about his technique. I went on to make this second, better copy as a birthday present for my dad.


There appeared to be quite a bit of underlying dark greeny/grey in Degas' flesh tones - I assumed he blocked this in with pastel or charcoal rather than it being the colour of the support, though I do recall someone saying he was known to tint his paper with such things as tea.

In the Comp forum there was some wonderful discussion of the complexities of design of this particular picture, in a thread called 'Unlocking Degas' Tub': http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=125650

Hope this is a useful contribution.

A Few Pigments
12-03-2004, 08:34 PM
Hi E-J,

There appeared to be quite a bit of underlying dark greeny/grey in Degas' flesh tones - I assumed he blocked this in with pastel or charcoal rather than it being the colour of the support, though I do recall someone saying he was known to tint his paper with such things as tea.

You obviously did a lot of study on this one. I didn’t know he tinted with tea. Makes me wonder what he did with coffee. I guess it proves the great artists had no limits…and may be not a lot to drink either.

In the Comp forum there was some wonderful discussion of the complexities of design of this particular picture, in a thread called 'Unlocking Degas' Tub': http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=125650
I guess we should all be grateful it wasn’t called “Unblocking Degas’ Tub”. I’m willing to do a lot to improve my art, but I have my limits.
Hope this is a useful contribution.
E-J all your contributions are useful.

12-04-2004, 07:42 AM
I guess we should all be grateful it wasn’t called “Unblocking Degas’ Tub”. I’m willing to do a lot to improve my art, but I have my limits.


Deborah Secor
12-07-2004, 12:10 AM
I must say I've had a wonderful time looking at this work. The Athenaeum site is the winner! I noticed when I organized the entries by date that Degas worked a lot in pastel in his later years. It looks to me like he graduated from oil painting to pastels! Interesting...

I love his strong and risky compositions, especially the way he's willing to put subject matter along the edges of the paper. The color is gorgeous. I guess the fact is, this guy knew what he was doing! Great lessons--thanks so much for putting it all here for us!


A Few Pigments
12-07-2004, 12:19 AM
The Metropolitan Museum of Art: http://www.metmuseum.org/explore/Degas/html/indexl.html
Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was an outspoken proponent of a new sensibility. He and his contemporaries, known as the Impressionists, organized independent exhibitions in which they showed their controversial work. Degas's style, subject matter, and artistic sensibility set him apart from the other Impressionists.
In addition to his artistic endeavors, Degas amassed a collection of art so vast and of such substance that he considered establishing his own private museum to house it. The Musée Degas was never realized; instead, his collection was auctioned off in 1918.

Learn more about Edgar Degas, his times, his work, and his collection through this on-line exploration created in conjunction with the international loan exhibition "The Private Collection of Edgar Degas" and the Teacher Workshop "Postures and Poses: The Art of Edgar Degas."

Please note that the works illustrated in this section, although part of the Metropolitan's collection, may not always be on view in the galleries.

Degas's Home http://www.degashouse.com/

Edgar Degas Quotations http://www.artopp.net/degas.htm

It is a tremendous responsibility to leave anything behind in bronze–that medium is for eternity. ---Edgar Degas

The fascinating thing, is not to show the source of light, but the effect of light. ---Edgar Degas

Realism is more important than the sentiment of the picture.---Edgar Degas

The true traveler never arrives. .---Edgar Degas

Drawing is not what one sees but what one can make others see. -- Edgar Degas

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see. ---Edgar Degas

No art is less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and the study of the great masters. ---Edgar Degas

Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do. ---Edgar Degas

One must do the same subject over again ten times, a hundred times. In art nothing must resemble an accident, not even movement. ---Edgar Degas

In painting you must give the idea of the true by means of the false. ---Edgar Degas

Make a drawing. Start all over again. Trace it. Start it and trace it again. You must do over the same subject ten times, a hundred times. In art nothing must appear accidental even a movement. ---Edgar Degas

These women of mine are decent, simple human beings who have no other concern than that of their physical condition... it is as though one were watching through a keyhole. ---Edgar Degas

Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things. ---Edgar Degas

It is all very well to copy what one sees, but it is far better to draw what one now only sees in one's memory. That is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.--Edgar Degas

I have chosen to paint our own age because this is what I understand best, because it is more alive, and because I am painting for living people. --Edgar Degas

Everyone has talent at twenty-five. The difficulty is to have it at fifty.-- Edgar Degas

A picture is something which requires as much knavery, trickery and deceit as the perpetration of a crime. -- Edgar Degas

From The Artchive: http://www.artchive.com/artchive/D/degas.html
"...Aspects of Degas's work - mainly, his ballet paintings from the 1880S - have long been popular with a broad audience; too much so for their own good. But he has never been a "popular" artist like the wholly inferior Auguste Renoir, whose Paris-Boston retrospective in 1985 beguiled the crowds and bored everyone else. Degas was much harder to take, with his spiny intelligence (never Renoir's problem), his puzzling mixtures of categories, his unconventional cropping and, above all, his "coldness" - that icy, precise objectivity which was one of the masks of his unrelenting power of aesthetic deliberation. Besides, the long continuities of his work have not always been obvious. The figure you think he skimmed from the street like a Kodak turns out to have been there already, in Ingres or Watteau or some half-forgotten seventeenth-century draftsman who suited his purposes. Degas was the most modern of artists, but his kind of modernity, which entailed a passionate working relationship with the remote as well as the recent past, hardly exists today. How we would have bored him, with our feeble jabber of postmodernist "appropriation"!
"In his late years Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas was chatting in his studio with one of his few friends and many admirers, English painter Walter Richard Sickert. They decided to visit a café. Young Sickert got ready to summon a fiacre, a horse-drawn cab. Degas objected. "Personally, I don't like cabs. You don't see anyone. That's why I love to ride on the omnibus-you can look at people. We were created to look at one another, weren't we?"

"No passing remark could take you closer to the heart of nineteenth-century Realism: the idea of the artist as an engine for looking, a being whose destiny was to study what Balzac, in a title that declared its rebellion from the theological order of Dante's Divine Comedy, called La Comédie Humaine.

"The idea that the goal of creative effort lay outside the field of allegory and moral precept was quite new in the 1860s when Degas was coming to maturity as a painter. The highest art was still history painting, in which France had reigned supreme; but since 1855 practically the whole generation of history painters on whom this elevation depended - Paul Delaroche, Ary Scheffer, Horace Vernet and, above all, Eugéne Delacroix and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres - had died, and no one seemed fit to replace them. French critics and artists alike, and conservative ones in particular, felt a tremor of crisis, as others would a century later as the masters of modernism died off. After them, what could sustain the momentum of culture? "His presence among us was a guarantee, his life a safeguard," ran Ingres's obituary in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts in 1867.

"And yet beyond the ruins of the temple, something else was stirring: a sense of the century as unique in itself, full of what Charles Baudelaire called the "heroism of modern life." Its chief bearers, in painting, were to be Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas.

"Born in 1834 into a rich Franco-Italian banking family with branches in Paris, Naples and New Orleans, Degas was never short of money and never doubted his vocation as a painter, in which his family encouraged him. He was a shy, insecure, aloof young man - if one did not know this from the testimony of his friends, one would gather it from his early self-portraits, with their veiled look of mannerist inwardness acquired from Pontormo - and, it seems, unusually devoid of narcissism: unlike almost every nineteenth-century painter one has heard of, he gave up painting his own face at thirty-one. It was the Other that fascinated him: all faces except his own.

"In time he would construct a formidable "character" to mask his shyness: Degas the solitary, the feared aphorist, the Great Bear of Paris. He never married - "I would have been in mortal misery all my life for fear my wife might say, 'That's a pretty little thing,' after I had finished a picture." Certainly he was not homosexual. The more likely guess is that he was impotent. If so, all the luckier for art: his libido and curiosity were channeled through his eyes.

"He had a reputation for misogyny, mainly because he rejected the hypocrisy about formal beauty embedded in the depilated Salon nudes of Bouguereau and Cabanel - ideal wax with little rosy nipples. "Why do you paint women so ugly, Monsieur Degas?" some hostess unwisely asked him. "Parce que la femme en general est laide, madame, " growled the old terror: "Because, madam, women in general are ugly."

"This was a blague. To find Degas's true feelings about women, one should consult the pastels and oil paintings of nudes that he made, at the height of his powers, in the 1880s and 1890s. Some critics still find them "clinical," because they seem to be done from a point outside the model's awareness, as though she did not know he was there and were not, actually, posing. "I want to look through the keyhole," Degas said. The bathers were "like cats licking themselves." Their bodies are radiant, worked and reworked almost to a thick crust of pastel, mat and blooming with myriad strokes within their tough winding contours. But they are also mechanisms of flesh and bone, all joints, protuberances, hollows, neither "personalities" nor pinups. (One sees why Duchamp, inventor of the mechanical bride, adored and copied Degas.) Not even Nude Woman Having Her Hair Combed, 1886-88, the most refined and classical of these nudes, seems in the least Renoiresque, although nothing could be more consummately appealing than that pink, slightly blockish body against the gold couch and the regulating white planes of peignoir and apron. It was a subject to which Degas brought special, almost fetishistic feeling, and a later version of the same theme, The Coiffure, 1896, shows what a vehicle for innovation it could be: by now the contours of the woman and her maid are roughed out with an almost Fauvist abruptness, and they emerge from a continuous orange-russet field that seems to predict Matisse's Red Studio - in fact Matisse once owned this painting, although he bought it from Degas's studio sale in 1918, long after his Red Studio was finished.

"Looking back from old age, Degas reflected that "perhaps I have thought about women as animals too much," but he had not - although he was certainly reproached for doing so. His "keyhole" bathers provoked the crisis of the Ideal Nude, whose last great exponent had been the man Degas most revered, Ingres. Yet their exquisite clarity of profile could not have been achieved without Ingres's example. In them, the great synthesis between two approaches that, thirty years before, had been considered the opposed poles of French art - Ingres's classical line, Delacroix's Romantic color - is achieved. There is no clearer instance of the way in which true innovators, such as Degas, do not "destroy" the past (as the mythology of avant-gardism insisted): they amplify it.

"In their novel Manette Salomon (1867) the Goncourts had Coriolis, an artist, reflect on "the feeling, the intuition for the contemporary, for the scene that rubs shoulders with you, for the present in which you sense the trembling of your emotions.... There must be found a line that would precisely render life, embrace from close at hand the individual, the particular - a living, human, inward line - a drawing truer than all drawing."

"Degas thinly disguised, you would think. But at the time, the Goncourts did not know Degas; they would come to meet him later. Neither, strangely enough, did Degas meet his literary parallel, Gustave Flaubert, whose Madame Bovary had made its scandalous and prosecuted debut in 1856 - although he had certainly read him. Flaubert's objectivity, his impassioned belief in "scientific" description as the instrument of social fiction, his acute sensitivity to class, his sardonic humor - all find their counterpart in Degas. And so does his attitude to the past as source and example, the springboard for invention in the present. "There must be no more archaisms, clichés," Flaubert wrote about the difficulty of prose. "Contemporary ideas must be expressed using the appropriate crude terms; everything must be as clear as Voltaire, as abrim with substance as Montaigne ... and always streaming with color." Read Ingres and Delacroix for Voltaire and Montaigne, and you have Degas in a nutshell.

"Nothing escaped his prehensile eye for the texture of life and the myriad gestures that reveal class and work. He made art from things that no painter had fully used before: the way a discarded dress, still warm from the now naked body, keeps some of the shape of its wearer; the unconcern of a dancer scratching her back between practice sessions (The Dance Class, 1873-76); the tension in a relationship between a man and a woman (Sulking, 1875-76) or the undercurrent of violence and domination in an affair (Interior, sometimes known as The Rape, 1868--69); a laundress's yawn, the stoned heaviness of an absinthe drinker's posture before the dull green phosphorescence of her glass, the exact port of a dandy's cane, the scrawny professional absorption of the petits rats of the ballet corps, the look in a whore's eye as she sizes up her client, the revealing clutter on a writer's desk. Even when painting themes from the Bible or from ancient history, as he often did in his early years, there were, as Henri Loyrette points out in the catalogue, "contemporary concerns beneath a thin archaeological veneer." His Scene of War in the Middle Ages, 1863-5, whose erotically charged women victims prefigure his bathers, refer to the brutality inflicted on women in New Orleans (where all his maternal family lived) by Union troops in the Civil War.

"Degas did not suddenly "become" a Realist. That was a myth propagated by his friends in the Impressionist circle at Batignolles, especially Édouard Manet, who implicitly claimed the credit for his conversion. What happened was more subtle: gradually this quintessential young bourgeois discovered what was to be seen from the eyeline of the bourgeoisie, but he raised his theater of social observation on the foundations of strict academic training in the mold of Ingres, whose precision he never lost. His eye for the instant gesture and socially revealing incident went with a lifelong habit of recycling poses and motifs, patching them in. Thus he can be very deceptive: the image that seems the freshest product of observation turns out to have been used half a dozen times before. Degas copied everything from Mantegna to Moghul miniatures, and even the work of lesser painters than himself; an artist, he said, should not be allowed to draw so much as a radish from life without the constant habit of drawing from the old masters. (By the same token, he was an avid collector of both old and new art: in his sixties he purchased two Gauguins, and when pushing eighty he remarked with some admiration of Cubism that "it seems even more difficult than painting." Allegory, in his early work, went with the desire to see freshly - and it would return in strange forms in his old age, as in the painting of a fallen jockey whose horse is clearly one of the steeds of the Apocalypse, or Russian Dancers, three women in clumping boots, locked together in a straining mass like Goya's witches. Both are present in his first real masterpiece, done in 1858 after he got back to Paris: The Bellelli Family, that marvelously observed group portrait of his neurotic aunt Laura, her lazy and distracted husband, Gennaro, and their two daughters. For although it is a tour de force of Realist observation - how much more concrete and present the Bellellis seem to us, surrounded by the furniture and other stuff of their lives, than the people on the neutral brown grounds Manet borrowed from Velázquez! - it is also an allegory, of family continuity under stress: the drawing on the wall behind Laura Bellelli is of Degas's grandfather Hilaire, and she is pregnant, so that four generations, not two, are present in the picture. And you cannot fail to associate this with Degas's own working methods, the sense of filiation and descent that would breathe through his work for the rest of his life, the past feeding into the present and then out into the future. Degas, the synthesizer of Ingres and Delacroix, would point - through the wild color-fields and direct manual touch of his later years - to a modernism that was not yet born."
- From Robert Hughes, "Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists"

Books about Degas at Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/external-search/002-7701649-3212842?tag=artopp-20&keyword=degas%20%20artist&mode=blended

A Few Pigments
12-07-2004, 12:34 AM
Deborah, thank you, I’m enjoying doing these threads. There is so much on the web about Degas this could become a three month thread, but I’ll keep it down to just one month.

A Few Pigments
12-07-2004, 06:11 PM
The Edgar Degas website: A permanent museum showing a 300 paintings database searchable on theme, title, date or technique. http://www.expo-degas.com/

Olga's Gallery Edgar Degas: http://www.abcgallery.com/D/degas/degas.html

OCAIW, Orazlo Centaro's Art Images on the Web: A great gallery devoted to Edgar Degas, one of the most fascinating Masters of French Impressionism. Here, you will find 91 works. http://www.ocaiw.com/galleria_degas/index.php?lang=en

Biography on A&E: http://www.biography.com/impressionists/artists_degas.html

A Few Pigments
12-07-2004, 09:13 PM
Smithsonian Institution: Edgar Degas's last years — making art that danced http://www.smithsonianmag.si.edu/smithsonian/issues96/oct96/degas.html

Edgar Degas Screen Saver Download Page: http://www.screensaver.lunarpages.com/us/e/Edgar_Degas.html
Download Edgar Degas Screensaver, Fine Arts - Paintings --- Screensavers 573 KB .

SNOF, Syndicat National des Ophtalmologistes de France: Edgar Degas (1834-1917) suffered a serious ocular disease which eventually caused his blindness. The signs became obvious around 1870. We have no certainty as to the disease that troubled his painting and we can only imagine what the disease was or what effect it had on his paintings. http://www.snof.org/art/degas-us.html

On imagination... http://www.thedrawingplace.com/one_nb_degas.html
"A picture is first of all a product of the imagination of the artist; it must never be a copy." (Goldwater, Robert & Morco Treves 308)
Edgar Degas

"The artist does not draw what he sees, but what he must make others see." (Goldwater, Robert & Morco Treves 308)
Edgar Degas

A Few Pigments
12-08-2004, 03:51 AM
Henri Roche Pastels, Edgar Degas’ favorite pastels:
FineArtStore.com http://www.fineartstore.com/cgistore/store.cgi?page=index.html&setup=1&cart_id=455322.3936 Rochester Art Supply 150 West Main St. Rochester, NY 14614 USA

Roche pastels... One of the best kept secrets of the pastel world. Until now Roche pastels were only available from a little shop in Paris, and only if you visited on Thursday afternoons. They have been compared to playing a Stradivarious. Handmade since 1720, these exquisite pastels have been used by an impressive list of pastelists, including Degas, Sisley and Whistler. Greatly prized, many contemporary painters have made it a point to purchase them when in Paris. We can save you the airfare.

In the year 1865, Henri Roche, a chemical engineer, chemist, biologist, and artist, purchased the workshop called "La Maison du Pastel". Henri Roche was a student of the famous Louis Pasteur, who also worked with pastels. Roche pastel formulations were based on recommendations offered by artists such as Edgar Degas, Cheret, and Whistler. These artists requested a pastel with a wide range of harmonious, luminous colors that would adhere to paper without the need of a fixative, which could alter the color.

What began in the 18th Century as the pastel workshop "La Maison du Pastel" continues today under the direction of Isabelle Roche a direct descendent of Henri Roche. Many pastel artists have made it a point to visit Isabelle's shop when in Paris. By the way, because the French government imposes a tax on art supplies, you will find the cost for Roche pastels in Paris is substantially higher than ours.

How they differ…You will find these pastels very unique in color, texture and feel. Roche pastels are formulated with pumice, which allows for a greater concentration of pigment then most pastels. Other brands of pastels start out as a batch of white; to which pigment is added. Roche pastels start as a batch of pure pigment, to which pumice and a tiny bit of binder are added- so you are painting with the pure, unadulterated, saturated pigments. According to master pastelist, Gail Sauter "Roche pastels are marvelous for those 'genius' strokes that bring a work to completion and make it sing---their power is amazing". Roche pastels are incredible for final layers, because the colors are intense but not formulated with a white base; so they will not "hide" your underpainting.

A Few Pigments
12-15-2004, 01:38 AM
The text and painting below are from a book I have called Techniques of the Great Masters of Art. It explains in some detail how Degas did the painting After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself.

In 1854 Degas abandoned his study of law and began training under Louis Lamothe, a pupil of lngres. Degas subsequently met Ingres and was encouraged by the master to ‘draw lines'. He proceeded to develop as a superb classical draftsman. combining this with his strength as colorist to unite these two conflicting French traditions represented, on the one hand, by Poussin and Rubens in the seventeenth century, and, on the other, by Ingres and Delacroix in the nineteenth.
For Degas, art had a strong intellectual basis, as he himself stated "What I do is the result of reflection and study... of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament I know nothing. Unlike most Impressionists, he worked indoors from memory and was not interested in work ing from nature. Degas’ scientific curiosity led him to experiment with many teèhniques and media.
On canvas, he used a variety of grounds and experimented with raw canvas. He also painted on supports made of colored paper laid on canvas in which the color and absorbency of the paper played a central role Such works demonstrate Degas experiments employing a technique of soaking the oil binder from the color on blotting paper prior to diluting it with turpentine to create a fluid. quick-drying. matt medium. The dry. pastel-like film thus created was similar to that of his pastel drawings, and he often combined these techniques adding gouache. drawing materials, and printing ink to his multi-media repertoire.
X-rays of Degas oil paintings suggest that beneath the precision of his early style lay the economical and blurred studies characteristic of his later work. Unlike Monet and Renoir. Degas paint film was built up in distinct and fairly regular layers.
Pastels gave Degas an ideal combination of color and line which he built into a web of crossed striations of color each reading through to previous layers. Steaming the pastel surface dissolved the pigment into films of color, which Degas then worked as a paste with a stiff brush or his fingers or. when the mixture was more fluid, spread like a thin scumbled wash. Degas use of pastel, which made work easier as his eyesight began to fail in the inid-1880s. gave this hitherto relatively underexploited medium a new importance.

After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself/Apres le Bain, Femme s’ Essuyant (1880) Pastel on cardboard, 104cm x 98.5cm , 407/8 x 383/4 inches.
The squarish format with the figure cramped in the pictorial space is typical of Degas’ style. The cream- colored paper adds warmth and provides basic colotistic unity. While the cream color is obliterated in the heavily worked areas of the flesh, chair, and bath, the paper texture remains to break the pastel strokes, giving a flecked surface of interwoven color. The outlines and areas of shading in the torso and towel are established in charcoal. The marks of the pastel evoke texture varying greatly from short, pressured strokes, to longer, sweeping lines. The repetition of color across the picture encourages the eye to move across the surface and make visual links. The woman’s pose, with her back flattened parallel to the picture plane stresses the geometry of the composition.
The picture is on textured, cream non-pressed paper. The central horizontal panel has two vertical joints, one through the outer Curve of the woman's waist and one to the left of her projecting elbow. Narrow strips on the top and bottom are divided vertically down the middle.
The pieces of paper appear to abut each other and not overlap. The upper and lower strips may be overlapped by the entire central block, as pastel strokes appear to have ‘skipped' the seam, and the upper and lower strips seem to be less heavily worked. Faint evidence of a pin-hole may indicate that the central panel was begun before the others.
The pastel marks vary greatly in this picture and are used for both decorative and textural effects. Short, pressured strokes (1) describe the carpet with zig-zags of dark blue-green on top, and longer, sweeping lines of purple (2) give the effect of shadows on the towel; soft, slurred strokes (3) give a bluish reflection on the white fabric. Stabbed, hard touches (4) using the pastel tip giveagrayish pattern above the woman s head and neck, and the bright yellow used on the slipper and chair (5) is laid over orange.
The artist’s hesitation and chances in the position of the figure remain visible. The projecting elbow was shortened as was the thigh. The knee being moved to the right. Adjustments to the upper arm relate to those at the elbow, and neither the arm nor the leg was definitively completed. A late working of orange into the gap between the waist and right arm extends over the hip and may have been due to Dagas’ failing eyesight. it serves to stress the highlight catching the hip and waist to the right of the spine, thus reinforcing the pattern of diagonals and the main axis of the spine.
The cream-colored paper glows faintly through the smudged charcoal grays of the shoulder blade contour and shadows acting as muted flesh tints. Pale madder pinks and creamy, probably Naples yellow were used, with white on top in strong hatched striations which allow the charcoal grays to show through. Blue pastel is worked into white at the peak of the shoulder, while orange strokes add warmth to the contour of the upper arm. The soft, friable pastel pigment catches on the textured paper creating a stippled flickering effect between the layers of alternate dark and pale color. The dusty opaque dryness typical of pastel surfaces is clearly visible here.
Degas used a wide range of pastels, with colors worked into one another on the picture surface to produce additional tints and broken colors. Ultramarine appears in a raw touch just below the breast and in the curtains above the woman’s tight shoulder. Purple is used on the towel, as are white and pale turquoise. The deep shadows on the towel are dark blue-green which also appears on the chair and carpet. Orange is picked up on the wall under the woman’s right arm, the crook of her right elbow, on the wall at top right, and the curtains, top left. Flesh tints are dominated by a grayish yellow and warmed by a variety of pinks. Alizarin is also used in the hair and curtains, and viridian green in the carpet. White is worked into the towel and highlights on the flesh.

12-15-2004, 10:53 AM
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this for us.... What a gift I feel I have received for Christmas this year - a summary of Degas at my fingertips.

Many many thanks!!!! Barb :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :)

A Few Pigments
12-15-2004, 11:18 PM
Barb, thank you very much. :) I’m really enjoying doing these so it’s more like fun than work. I feel like I’m taking a graduate course in pastels, but I’m sure it will take a while to assimilate all of this and get it from my little brain to paper. I’ll be posting more on Degas next week.

A Few Pigments
12-20-2004, 09:39 PM
The text and painting below are from a book I have called Techniques of the Great Masters of Art. It explains in some detail how Degas did the distemper and pastel painting Portrait of Duranty.

Portrait of Duranty, Portrait de Duranty, Distemper* and pastel on sized but unprimed canvas, 100cm X l00cm, 39 1/2 x 39 1/2 inches

Cool, aloof, intellectual, Degas was of the epitome of the Parisian dandy. Abandoning historically inspired academic subjects early in the 1860s, he began a lifelong commitment to rendering the modern life subjects which he saw around him. Influenced by an eclectic appreciation of the art of the Old Masters, and by the great nineteenth century painters, especially Ingres and Delacroix, Degas fused in his art the grand traditions of draftsmanship and coloring. He combined tradition and innovation. He wanted to bring a new emotional subtlety to painting, to rid art of the schematized caricatures of the emotions to which academic artists resorted. His alms were summarized by his friend Edmond Duranty in 1876: ‘by means of a back, we want a temperament, an age, a social condition to be revealed.’

Degas met Duranty around 1865, and established a close friendship with this kindred spirit. Duranty had been a staunch supporter of Realism for more than a decade, and had edited a short lived review Le Realisme in the mid 1 850s. An art critic and novelist in the vein of Gustave Plaubert (1821-1880) and Emile Zola (1840-1902), his fame was eclipsed by the success of these writers, leaving him an ironic cynicism akin to that of Degas himself. Duranty was the only writer in his social circle whom Degas portrayed, and he appeared in works other than this portrait.

The Portrait of Duranty comes toward the start of the period between 1875 and 1885 which saw Degas’ most prolific experiments in artistic techniques. Around this time, artists were increasingly exploiting the matness of modern paints, and here Degas used a combination of opaque non-oil-based mediums. Distemper - a water-based glue-bound medium
provided the basic material of the portrait, which was executed on unprimed canvas. A shine apparent only in areas where the raw canvas Is revealed, suggests that the fabric was first sized, with a glue size. The combination of distemper overworked with pastel used here has adhered inadequately to the flexible fabric support, and paint losses are clearly visible in places. The palish beige linen color of the canvas was also intentionally left bare in many parts, and its warmth unifies the overall tonality which, because of subdued canvas tone, results in muted harmony.

The mediums - distemper and pastel - are both mat and opaque, scattering reflected light from the picture surface. The pastel, with its distinct powdery hatched marks, is clearly visible worked over the freely brushed distemper colors. The pastel was used selectively, especially on the figure of Duranty, where it focuses attention on the sitter by strengthening drawing and heightening color. Strokes of a startling violet-blue, used to express reflected light In the shadow, for example on the raised middle finger supporting the sitter’s head, have an almost floating, luminous quality. A darker. greener blue pastel was worked into the blue of the jacket, and some black strokes add lines of definition to the form of the figure. Pastel hatching on the face constructs form in terms of modeled color and tone, but, because their direction does not always follow the form. these marks have a life of their own. They contradict the formal structure of the face - even at a relatively distant viewing range - and this results in a striking tension between Illusion and surface pattern.

Compositlonally. the picture is powerful, and typical of Degas’ daring experiments with pictorial construction and space. Influenced by Japanese prints and photography, he sought to express the particular note of the modern individual, in his clothing, in the midst of his social habits’, as Duranty stated in 1876. Adopting an unusual square format which stresses surface flatness. Degas placed the sitter’s head centrally, the midpoint of the canvas coinciding with Duranty’s raised fingers pressing against his skull. This was perhaps a humorous reference to the man’s intellectual intensity, as well as a typical pose. The figure. thus placed, seems oppressed by the mass of roughly indicated books on the shelves Immediately behind him. He appears trapped in a shallow space, completely surrounded by the evidence of his trade, which, in the abrupt slope - of his crowded desk, effectively separates him from the spectator - whose gaze he avoids.

Degas’ alignment of the bookshelves is also no accident. The second shelf down on the left links with the third down on the right, and together they form a disturbing horizontal which cuts across the picture space, denying recession, and pushing close up to the picture surface. Colors, like the bright blue and the brown beneath it in the foreground left, serve a similar function, linking with comparable colors in the background to flatten the pictorial space. The overall effect of such devices is to emphasize the disquieting tension between abstract design and illusionistic representation, which gives a taut sense of presence and immediacy to the sitter.

Unlike the Impressionists, with whom Degas was associated by friendship and a commitment to alternative, unofficial exhibitions, Degas did not work from nature: ‘art is not a sport’ he maintained. He always worked In the studio, often from memory and from reworking Ideas within his own pictures, preferring the effects of artificial light to outdoor lighting. For him, art was ‘falsehood, a picture was ‘something which calls for as much cunning, trickery and vice as the perpetration of a crime.’ Yet to the casual observer, the final effect was often one of guileless and almost casual immediacy. This result, achieved sensitively in this portrait, is characteristic of many of Degas’ works.

Like many of his more daring contemporaries, Degas began to experiment with square format canvases during the 1870s. It is likely that his avid experiments with work on paper supports, which were easily cut, altered and added to as need demanded, fed his ideas, permitting him to develop them with great confidence onto the more costly canvas supports. Although Degas only infrequently used oil on unprimed canvas, because It was technically unsound, water-based paints were safe to use with raw canvas. In fact, the dull gloss visible on the unpainted parts of this picture suggests that Degas did give his support limited protection by applying a layer of size glue. At that time canvases could then be bought ready sized but without a layer of ground color, and Degas may well have used such a product here. Just as Degas was experimenting with fairly binder-free oil colors, applied with turpentine to give dusty, mat effects, so too he used naturally mat media. Here gouache and pastel media-were combined to give a pale light-reflective surface.
In places the thinly applied gouache has been strengthened by the addition of black pastel. Degas’ signature is ingeniously placed to follow the plane of the pink bookcover so that it appears as part of the printing. Flaking is particularly visible in the off-white gouache.
Free and simplified handling belie the crisp confidence of Degas’ draftsmanship. Mainly executed in gouache, the twisting movement of the wrist and hand are superbly captured. Pinks are used for the light parts contrasting greens for the shadows. Black gouache was overlaid to strengthen the drawing of the fingers by defining the divisions between them more clearly.
The unifying function of the raw sized canvas is apparent here, where it appears as a color and texture among the gouache and pastel The texture of the canvas is vital, breaking the flow of the colors to give a vibrant effect, where the darker linen shows through the pale hues on top. The horizontal threads of the canvas are evident on the figure's brow, giving the appearance of deep pensive furrows. The combining gouache underpainting with pastel overworking, where line is used as color.
These two drawn studies show how the artist began his portrait. Only minor changes were made when he transferred the life study of the figure to the canvas. The torso was shifted to stress his raised right shoulder and the modeling of this arm was made more monumental. The new angle of the shoulders was echoed in the more acute angle of the desk, following the sweep of the shelves and see to trap the powerful bulk of Duranty among his cluttered papers. The final striking design of the background shelves, with their strong bisecting horizontal lines, was in vented by Degas.


*Distemper - A water-soluble paint using egg-yolk or glue size as a binder. Used mostly for flat indoor wall decoration. http://www.artlex.com/

Examples of works produced with distemper:
Andrea Mantegna (Italian, 1495-1505), Adoration of the Magi, distemper on linen, stretcher size: 21 1/2 x 27 3/8 inches (54.6 x 69.2 cm), J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, CA. See Renaissance. http://www.getty.edu/art/collections/objects/o900.html

Follower of Giulio Romano (Italian), The Battle of Ticinus, Mantua, c. 1558, distemper on paper mounted on canvas, Louvre. http://www.louvre.fr/anglais/collec/ag/rf44339/ag_f.htm

A Few Pigments
12-21-2004, 09:55 PM
I thought it might be interesting to look at Degas’ landscapes. So much attention is paid to his paintings of ballet dancers and women in their bathrooms it’s easy to forget Degas did many excellent landscape paintings. Below are ten of his pastel landscape paintings.

Degas & his landscapes
by Karen Wilkin http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/12/mar94/degas.htm#fn1
The New Criterion home page http://www.newcriterion.com/
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (1834–1917) has been called “the most misunderstood of famous modern artists.” He is at once utterly familiar and remarkably enigmatic. Popularly labeled “the Impressionist who painted ballet dancers,” he is, in fact, far more than that—a tough, complex, unpredictable artist who is difficult to categorize. A brilliant draftsman, with an unerring grasp of eloquent contour and telling interval, he possessed one of the most acute, pitiless eyes in the history of French painting; only Chardin and Matisse seem comparable. But Degas was also fascinated by the ephemeral, the incomplete, and the transient, and (as with Chardin and Matisse) his desire for optical truth—which is not the same as verisimilitude—was filtered through a powerful sense of abstract structure and willed harmony, so much so that it’s even arguable whether Degas was an Impressionist at all, despite his close association with the artists who came to be known by that name. The closer we look, the more elusive he seems. There’s always something new to discover about Degas’s art, but the more we know, the more various and full of contradictions it appears to be and the less we are able to pin down its author.

Hailed today as a radical innovator, a pioneer modernist, Degas was a lifelong admirer of the conservative Ingres and was profoundly attracted to both the clarity of Neo-Classicism and the formal certainties of the Academy. In an era when ambitious painters struggled to produce monumental canvases designed to attract attention at the Salons, the no less ambitious Degas concentrated on intimate-scale paintings and an extraordinary body of work on paper—drawings, pastels, and monotypes—as serious and inventive, if not more so, as anything he did on canvas. Praised as a master of two dimensions, as an original colorist and an accomplished draftsman, he modeled some of the most provocative sculptures in the history of modernist art, devoting a great deal of time, energy, and effort to his idiosyncratic waxes but never casting them and exhibiting only one in his lifetime. Perceived as a cranky bachelor who had few friends, went out rarely, and tolerated few visitors in the studio, Degas painted portraits notable for their sympathy and psychological penetration. Commonly held to be deeply misogynistic, he yet produced astonishingly transparent images of women in unguarded moments—bathing, dressing, working, going about the everyday business of their lives—apparently unaware of being observed. And so on.

The comprehensive 1988 retrospective that traveled to Paris, Ottawa, and New York brought home to us the breadth, ambition, and sheer wide-rangingness of Degas’s art and made its inherent paradoxes clear. An illuminating, if quirky, show that aimed at presenting this difficult artist whole, it succeeded in giving us a sense not only of the evolution of Degas’s concerns but of the single-mindedness of his conceptions and the inventiveness of his methods. It was a demanding exhibit that required a good deal of effort from its viewers, since Degas emerged as neither ingratiating nor easy to grasp. Quite the contrary. He appeared as aloof and chameleon-like as ever, although a few things seemed incontrovertible: his unpredictability and the high level of his achievement. It was clear, too, that he was primarily concerned with the figure (which is not to discount the importance of equestrian themes) and that he was a confirmed urbanite. His best and often best-known works revealed him to have been an alert, dispassionate observer of nineteenth-century Parisian life, a kind of artiste-flâneur who bore witness to the private and public spectacles of the day: the theater, the opera house, the café concert, the racetrack, the boulevard, the rehearsal, the workplace, the boudoir. Baudelaire, I suspect, would have termed Degas a “painter of modern life,” which was to say a painter of modern urban life, wholly engaged by the phenomena of the city he lived in and its inhabitants. Unlike many of his “fellow” Impressionists, who found endless sources of imagery in the countryside within reach of Paris, Degas concentrated largely on urban interiors, venturing out-of-doors only to go to the racetrack or the café. Or so we thought.

Lately, Degas scholars, poring over the artist’s sketchbooks and notebooks, have begun to challenge even these tenuous certainties. The most recent and, in some ways, perhaps the most dramatic manifestation of their efforts is “Degas Landscapes,” an elegant, tightly focused exhibition now on view at the Metropolitan Museum. [1] Organized jointly by Colta Ives of the Metropolitan and George Shackelford of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the show forcibly alters and enlarges our conception of the artist we thought we had come to know in 1988. Thanks to this enlightening exhibition, and to the exhaustive, definitive study by Richard Kendall that serves as the exhibition catalogue (and which prompted the exhibit in the first place), we’ll never think about Degas in the same way again.

The protean painter-draftsman-sculptor who concentrated on figures and the urban scene turns out to have been a keen observer and inspired painter of the natural world throughout his long life as an artist. More remarkable still, Degas’s landscapes include some of his most daring, experimental works. As Kendall points out, however, there is no indication that Degas ever thought of himself as a landscape painter. Many of the Impressionists embraced a kind of “vernacular” landscape—as opposed to the Academy-sanctioned classicizing landscape, with its mythological pretensions—as part of their rejection of conventional standards, but Degas remained a dedicated painter of the figure.

It’s further evidence of the paradoxical conservatism of this radical artist that he shared the Academic assumption that the figure was an inherently more significant, more worthy subject than any other, which makes the amount of time he devoted to landscape and the excellence of the results even more notable. Not surprisingly, Degas’s landscapes are linked to his travels. On the occasions when he left Paris and was separated from his studio, his works in progress, and his models, he turned his omnivorous eye, perhaps for diversion, on his surroundings. Of course, it may have been this slightly throwaway aspect of his landscape themes that allowed Degas to treat them with such a lack of inhibition, but there is ample evidence, too, that he valued even the most rarefied of his landscape pictures and took them seriously as finished works of art.

It’s difficult to know what was most startling about the exhibition at the Met: discovering that Degas made landscapes in the first place or that he continued to do so from his student years until he was in his sixties, coming to terms with the freshness and improvisatory quality of his efforts or with their obscurity. Not that Degas’s landscapes were quite as obscure in his lifetime. Unlike the sculptures to which he devoted so much energy, Degas did exhibit a sizable group of his landscapes, mostly monotypes reworked with pastel, in his celebrated 1892 showing at the Galerie Durand-Ruel. Admittedly, at the time of the exhibition, Degas’s contemporaries are reported to have been amazed to learn that he had made any landscapes at all. He seems to have worked at them almost as secretly as he did his sculptures, which may also help to explain the astonishing freedom with which he approached landscape. Degas’s thinking of himself as a painter, rather than as a sculptor, and hence unconstrained by sculptural conventions, was enormously liberating, as was his perhaps cultivated ignorance of basic sculpture technique. At least as a mature artist, he appears to have felt himself similarly unconfined by the conventions of rendering the landscape. None of this, of course, accounts for why this painter of dancers, jockeys, shopgirls, and bathers should have chosen to hang only landscapes in the sole one-man exhibition of his lifetime. That remains surprising enough. That “Degas Landscapes” is the first exhibition since then devoted to this aspect of the painter’s work is even more surprising. The daring and intensity of the monotypes make Degas’s decision to show only these images in 1892 more understandable; the lack of attention paid to these works, until recently, remains mystifying.

The Metropolitan’s installation revolves around the radically simplified, brooding monotypes, partially re-creating the Durand-Ruel showing and including several actually exhibited in 1892. The galleries on either side offer an introduction and a coda to the monotypes. In the first gallery, we are given drawings and watercolors from Degas’s youthful trip to Italy, when he visited his father’s family in Naples and worked briefly with the Rome Prize winners at the French Academy, along with a group of equestrian landscapes dotted with horses, riders, and the occasional figure, and an impressive series of unpopulated, luminous pastels from his early travels through France. Collectively, they are persuasive evidence of Degas’s fundamental and continuing engagement with outdoor themes; individually, there are some wonderful little pictures among them. An apparently straightforward view from Degas’s grandfather’s house in Naples, Italian Landscape Seen through an Arch (oil on paper, 1856, private collection), seems initially to point back to Corot in its solidity and density, but it quickly declares its individuality and audacity. The landscape framed by the arch, far from being the expected pleasing veduta, is peculiarly blank: a strip of sky with sunset clouds, a few distant rooftops at the junction of sky and land, and a vast sea of minimally inflected green treetops. While apparently responding to the spectacle before him, the twenty-two-year-old Degas presents us with an emptied-out image that anticipates the boldly cropped figure compositions of his mature years, with their expanses of “empty” space. Equally good, but at the opposite pole, is a spare, immaculate drawing of the campagna from the collection of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, in which carefully rendered buildings, trees, and even an anecdotal ox become mere nodes of incident, wholly subsumed by the vast space of the Roman countryside. By contrast, the small pastels done during an 1869 sojourn in Normandy seem relatively conventional at first acquaintance, but they, too, soon reveal themselves as anything but, in their subtle orchestrations of tone and color, their directness and economy, and their reduction of landscape forms into archetectonic masses.

The final section of the exhibition includes one of the late vivid pastels of Russian dancers, here seen against a schematic meadow, which bears witness to the persistence of landscape as background in Degas’s mature years and perhaps will appease those disappointed at not finding more familiar imagery throughout the show. More arresting, though, is the selection of fairly large-scale paintings of the village of St. Valéry, in Picardy, where Degas’s family regularly spent holidays. They are odd pictures that teeter on the edge of artfulness, with their fragmented drawing and loose patches of subdued color, but the cumulative effect of their twilight palette and their dissection of rural architecture into geometric planes is to give us a glimpse of a new Degas, and to make us think, perhaps for the first time, of his relationship to contemporaries such as Cézanne and Gauguin.

But it’s the monotypes and the pastels related to them that are the most compelling, absorbing works in the show. They are extraordinary pictures, so lean and reductive that they hover on the brink of vanishing, like images seen out of the corner of one’s eye. In many, we intuit rather than recognize the hills and woods, fields and paths that they allude to. Unlike Degas’s earlier landscape images, which seem to be casual records of specific places, the monotypes are like dream images of sites seen once and then transformed by the passage of time and the distortions of memory. For once, unusually good documentation of the process of their making bears out the accuracy of this impression. Georges Jeanniot, a younger artist friend whose home in Burgundy was where Degas made his landscape monotypes in 1890, later recorded his recollections of the visit in Souvenirs sur Degas, published in 1933. The rather worshipful memoir is much quoted, but no less informative:

Once supplied with everything he needed, without waiting, without allowing himself to be distracted from his idea, he started. With his strong but beautifully-shaped fingers, his hand grasped the objects, the tools of his genius, handling them with a strange skill and little by little one could see emerging on the metal surface a small valley, a sky, white houses, fruit trees with black branches, birches and oaks, ruts full of water after the recent downpour, orangey clouds dispersing in an animated sky, above the red and green earth.

Jeanniot comments further that “these lovely things seemed to be created without the slightest effort, as if the model was in front of him,” and adds that the sculptor Paul-Albert Bartholomé, who accompanied Degas on the trip from Paris, “could recognize the places they had gone through.”

The palette of the monotypes is very much Degas’s own, an oddly unlandscape-like range of golden ochres, yellowish greens, browns, and violets that are nonetheless completely convincing as evocations of the out-of-doors. The method, too, is Degas’s own: monotype reworked with pastel, a technique he more or less devised for his own needs. He was similarly inventive in his sculpture techniques, but with less happy results: although formally liberating, his mixtures of clay and wax, like his habit of using cork or paper to extend forms, contributed to the deterioration of his figures while they were still in the studio. It is fortunate that Degas employed the monotype technique extensively as a mature painter, as it is more stable than his ad hoc sculpture practice. When he used the method to create images of the figure, he generally used the second impression as a “sketch” for pastel, preserving the first pulling as is. In his landscape monotypes, Degas was just as likely to add to both impressions—or neither—and sometimes transformed the second impression to the point of being all but unrecognizable. (Part of the pleasure of the Metropolitan’s installation is spotting the “twin” image in the exhibition’s handful of pairs.) Monotype must have delighted Degas. It’s a slightly unpredictable, fluid method that offers not only a matchless, velvety surface but, because of the process of printing and reversal, the frequent possibility of at least one repetition of the image and an automatic distancing of the artist from his motif. Given Degas’s reticence, his fascination with serial images—Monet had nothing on him there—and his appetite for sensual, worked surfaces, monotype must have seemed ideal. When applied to the figure, the serial quality of the monotype allowed Degas to repeat poses with variations in the disposition of limbs and in setting; when he applied it to landscape motifs, it allowed him to suggest rather than describe. More important, the pools of thinned-out pigment pressed into the paper allowed him to give free rein to his sense of color. In many of his landscape monotypes of 1890, those pools of color remain very much pools of color, at the same time that they barely suggest the hedgerows, copses, and fields of Burgundy. At any moment, they could shift back into formless paint. Some of them are so fluid that they seem to point directly to Helen Frankenthaler at her most allusive.

The sense of incompleteness, of imminence, embodied in these landscapes is something we are familiar with from Degas’s figures. His bathers always seem to have been caught in moments of no importance, chosen apparently at random from an infinity of gestures and motions, while his dancers are posed in attitudes of transition, neither the alert stance of preparation nor the triumphant achievement of a fully extended arabesque. Yet these “incomplete” postures contain both the memory of the activity’s beginning and the promise of its achievement, something that is made material in the landscape monotypes’ apparently temporary existence as landscape image, before subsiding back into liquid paint, an implied instability that can be read as a metaphor for the cycles of nature itself.

The sense of imminence in Degas’s landscape monotypes, like their audacious color and extreme simplifications, makes them appear to twentieth-century eyes to be modern, personal, and virtually abstract. The question, of course, is how Degas thought of them—not to mention how they were seen by others in their own day. It’s possible, for example, to find Turner watercolors that modern-day viewers can read as “abstract pictures,” but that were obviously no such thing. Turner intended them as color studies, never as finished works, and did not exhibit them. But Degas signed and exhibited some of his most daring landscapes in 1892. (One of the most pared-down, apparently alluding to a rutted field, is signed and dedicated to Bartholomé; in the collection of the Louvre, it is unfortunately not in the Met’s exhibition.) A few contemporary viewers, too, were struck by the power, the poetry, and the dazzling individuality of the works from the Durand-Ruel show. Kendall, however, seems curiously ambivalent about the monotypes. He is obviously enthusiastic about them and maintains, persuasively and perceptively, that the most extreme of Degas’s landscapes can be seen as a resolution of his lifelong dual allegiance to the legacies of Delacroix and Ingres, to loosely applied color and carefully rendered form. He sees them, too, as proof of Degas’s adventurousness as a landscape painter and as possible challenges offered to colleagues known for their pictures of the natural world.

But Kendall also makes an odd attempt to find literal justification for Degas’s economical forms, his departures from naturalism, and even his moody palette—the very things that make the monotype landscapes so potent and so unexpected. Kendall painstakingly describes the colors of the Burgundian countryside in autumn and reminds us of Degas’s deteriorating eyesight in his later years. My experience of Burgundy in the fall seems to be different from Kendall’s, but I’m willing to accept his version; his allusion to the aging painter’s failing vision is more troublesome. As Charles W. Millard has pointed out in his definitive study of Degas’s sculpture, the artist’s frightening episodes of failing sight were at least partly “a neurotic affliction,” and one that the reclusive painter took advantage of to protect himself from unwanted connections. (Degas’s poor vision is often cited as an explanation of why he began to make sculpture, but while dating of these works is always problematic, it is clear that his beginning to work in three dimensions predated any serious deterioration in his eyesight.) Kendall’s allusion to Degas’s vision in relation to the soft-edged, blurred forms of the monotypes seems unworthy of him. It’s awfully close to those articles, usually written by art-loving doctors, that assure us that the elongations of El Greco’s figures were caused by the painter’s astigmatism. What happened to intent?

But this is a quibble. Kendall’s book is otherwise fascinating, scrupulously researched, and well written. It’s a formidable marshaling of meticulously assembled evidence, a little repetitious at times and equipped with a few too many pedantic site charts showing the artist’s point of view, but these are small deficiencies. (Kendall must have had a good time following the home-made chart of Degas’s and Bartholomé’s travels through Burgundy, and tracking down other Degas sites; after all his labors in the archives, we can grant him that.) Degas Landscapes is an excellent, handsome volume with a clear, persuasive text. It’s a welcome addition to the Degas literature.

The show is a joy. Not only is it truly informative but it is immensely rewarding aesthetically. Degas has become no less elusive or unpredictable now that yet another, boldly experimental aspect of his work has been rediscovered. If anything he emerges as an even subtler, richer, and more challenging artist than we had imagined. And quite apart from anything else, those darkly glowing hillsides and fields are the perfect antidote to this year’s relentless winter.

“Degas Landscapes” opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, on January 21 and remains on view through April 3, 1994. It will then travel to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (April 15–July 2, 1994). A companion book, by Richard Kendall, has been published by the Yale University Press in association with the Met and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (312 pages, $55; $35 paper).
From The New Criterion Vol. 12, No. 7, March 1994
©1994 The New Criterion http://www.newcriterion.com/

All of these pastels landscape paintings can be found at The Athenaeum http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/by_artist.php?sort=date_up&id=144
1869 Degas Cliffs on the Edge of the Sea Pastel 17-3-8x23in.jpg
1869 Degas Seascape Pastel.jpg
1884 Degas Landscape on the Orne Pastel on paper.jpg
1890 Degas Landscape with Hills Pastel over monotype.jpg
1890-92 Degas Landscape Pastel.jpg
1890-93 Degas Cows in the Foreground Pastel over light monotype.jpg
1890-93 Degas Lake and Mountains Pastel.jpg
1890-93 Degas Landscape Pastel on monotype.jpg
1890-93 Degas Landscape with Rocks Pastel over monotype.jpg
1895-98 Degas Saint-Valery-sur-Somme Rue Quesnoy Pastel.jpg

12-29-2004, 11:48 AM
Lots of superb insights here - I had never even seen Degas' landscapes before! Will take some time to soak up all the information but it's great to know it is here - thanks, Bruce, for pulling it all together for us.

A Few Pigments
01-02-2005, 02:04 AM
Thank you E-J. I have one last post for this thread about Degas and Cassatt and then I'll be done. I'm a little behind, but that could be due to all the exercising I do. :)

01-25-2005, 07:50 AM
"By the way, because the French government imposes a tax on art supplies, you will find the cost for Roche pastels in Paris is substantially higher than ours. "

Roche pastels are probably very nice if you want to pay $15 each! Yes, they are $15 for each pastel stick. I just don't think they can be that much better (300% better, 300% more expensive) than other high quality pastels. In addition, this business about 'French government' tax, etc., etc., is not true. Schmincke and Sennelier pastels are basically the same price in France as in the US. I was just in Paris two weeks ago and I priced them out. I would guess Roche keeps the prices high because of Degas and other historical figures who used their pastels, and uses the government as an excuse (I lived in France and I've heard that excuse before).

Thanks for posting the information on Degas, it's quite interesting. I found the link to the compositional thread on Degas interesting as well. Some of his composition is truly fascinating and wonderful. The compositions with these bath tubs, however, are not among my favorites. His comp really was quite modern -- he was experimenting and in some instances I think he stretches the comps a bit too far.

A Few Pigments
01-25-2005, 09:29 PM
Dan, thank you for your post and the information about Roche pastels. I’m sure I’ll never buy them as long as they cost that much. It would be much cheaper to buy the pigment and make them myself.