View Full Version : Degas painted from photographs!?

Deborah Secor
04-14-2010, 02:56 PM

Degas used photos sometimes! Looks like it was just these three... I found the info and links on James Gurney's blog (http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/), where he put the pix and paintings side by side.

Fascinating! Creative artists use anything that comes to help them see and record, though I'm sure that Degas' reliance on drawing was paramount.


04-14-2010, 04:14 PM
An interesting read. A Master using photos to paint from over 100 years ago. And same Master running into the limitations of using photos to paint from over 100 yeas ago. Regardless, no one can deny the genius of his results.

04-14-2010, 04:33 PM
That's fascinating! Even with better cameras though, we still keep running into their limitations. The more I draw, the easier it gets to correct the problems in references.

04-14-2010, 05:40 PM
There is an article in the June 2009 Pastel Scribbler (http://pastelguild.eu/Scribbler/Pastel_Scribbler_Jun09.pdf) about that... :-) Page 2. And Don wrote about it in his Portrait and Figure class.

Obviously, this is well known in the world of photography. It is only we artists who are so sure he sat backstage and painted, so we don't know it. ;-)


Deborah Secor
04-14-2010, 06:02 PM
Well, Charlie, when you're already in onto something like this, do post it here so we artists can catch up! :lol:

Did everyone else already know this and I'm just 100 years out of date? :wink2:


04-14-2010, 06:59 PM
Did everyone else already know this and I'm just 100 years out of date? :wink2:

Well, I guess James Gurney didn't know either, until the other day! :lol:


Deborah Secor
04-14-2010, 08:20 PM
True... good point, but it seems I'm still the last one to know! :p


04-14-2010, 09:02 PM

I have about 6 books on Degas, and I think it is only mentioned in 2 of them, so I don't think it is a particularly well known fact. The stereotypical image of the impressionists - painters who worked only from life and produced quick, sketchy paintings painted in one sitting - has become so oft-repeated that is has become part of painting history and mythology - even if it isn't particularly accurate!

Degas, from what I have learned, seemed very interested in technology, loved innovation and was a constantly trying to come up with new ways to use materials. Too bad there was no WetCanvas in his day - he would have fit right in!


Deborah Secor
04-14-2010, 09:55 PM
I wrote an article about the use of projection (a real hot button topic, and not one I argued then or want to discuss now) in which I found out about the uses of the camera obscura and camera lucida long before there were Kodaks at hand! David Hockney's book discussed the theory that many of the 'Masters' used them, and very interesting it was. I admit that I found it a tempting idea to get one and give it a go. It really looks like fun. :wink2:


04-15-2010, 12:38 AM
I actually did know he painted from photos...but, he's probably my all-time favorite artist, so I own several books and have read a lot about him. Loved the article in PJ recently about his friendship with James A-M Whistler - it was fascinating and rather amusing!

In addition to eschewing the favored style and painting from life that his Impressionist peers did, he seems like a total curmudgeon, albeit a hugely talented one ;). I'd love to have coffee with him :D.

04-15-2010, 06:29 AM
:-) Don was onto it first, and I jumped on it and did some research too. If memory serves me, there's even been an exhibition in San Francisco with Degas' photos.

More shocking news, I have seen hints of *Monet* using photographs, he defends himself rather gruffly when accused of painting his London parliament paintings from a photo given to him by an English artist. I think Monet was having fun, being quite 'tongue-in-cheek' when claiming to paint all his painting plein air. So why did he have no less than four studios on his property?

I've seen David Hockney demonstrate his theory, in a one hour long program on tv (no comercial breaks, O bliss!). Entirely believable, really good solid evidence by an artist who thinks like one. (Art historians rarely know how to paint.) When artists were crafts people, and ran painting shops, they used the available technology. The whole central perspective thing is a result from the camera obscura, in the Renaissance.

It was not until the camera got to be in everyman's hand that the artworld started to sneer at projections, and tracing photos. No wonder, as they felt threatened by the 'perfect' nearly instant images produced by camera. People still believe the camera sees accurately, while we know it doesn't, definitely not the point-n-shoot variety. And with moder photoshopping and the likes, we can now say "the camera lies more efficiently than 1000 words". :-D

But we have to face it, a painting is nowadays a luxury. It is no longer the main mode of recording. How many portrait photos are there produced every year, and how many portrait paintings? On us lies the taks of educating people to how much more alive a painting is, with more than just the likeness as it hopefully also has captured a likeness of the person's soul, but I fear paintings will continue to be a luxury, the technical stuff has won.

We're just following tradition in making use of technology, and also in acquiring the skills of drawing and painting manually.

OK, no manifesto, no lecture, so I'll stop now. Agree, no debate needed, it's been going on for at least a century, and probably all (and more) has already been said.


04-15-2010, 07:33 AM
Degas also "distanced" himself somewhat from the Impressionists.

Vemeer is said to have been one of the "first" to use a camera obscura.

04-15-2010, 08:54 AM
The very first portrait is said to have been drawn by a girl who took a burned stick from the fire and traced her lover's profile as his shadow fell on the wall. Some put the scene in a cave, others in pre-Greek Ionian cultures. :-)

I guess art has been around as long as people have been, and tracing too. There are stencils of hands in... is it Lasceaux or Altamira?


04-15-2010, 10:02 AM
Deborah, I didn't know either and I consider myself a decent art historian.

Them using a camera makes sense to me. First off, their desire was to catch a moment in time. What better way? Further, they were cutting edge in their painting styles and subject matter, why not be cutting edge in other ways? Seems that they would embrace the new.