Saturday 2 July 2016

Art Review: Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty, MoMA, New York City

The last exhibition I saw that was dedicated entirely to the works of nineteenth-century French artist Edgar Degas was Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2011.

The Jet Earring (1876-7)
That exhibition was dedicated to the well-known and well-loved Degas paintings that I’d been familiar with since my childhood ballet lessons—canvas after canvas of dancers bending, twirling or tying their shoes in studios and on stage—along with his forays into sculpture, movement captured in impossible frozen poses.

The Ballet Master (c.1874)
The MoMA’s 2016 Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty though is dedicated to a whole new side of the artist—his love for printmaking and the monotype process. The dancers are still here but the pastels are replaced with a new darkness, visible from the artist’s very first experiment in the form in The Ballet Master (c.1874). As his proficiency with the technique develops, monotype allows Degas to explore texture and shadow, creating a much more intimate relationship with his subjects. In Actresses in their Dressing Rooms (1879-1880) each panel allows for experimentation with the possibilities of the form, while the voyeuristic subject matter is suited to the shade.

Actresses in their Dressing Rooms (1879-1880)
But printmaking also allows Degas to dabble in other subjects (some familiar, some less so)—brothels, which he only ever represented using these techniques (some of these prints I had seen previously at the d’Orsay exhibition I reviewed this January), bathers and other nude females, pictured in domestic environments, and the busy streets of late nineteenth-century Paris, where the versatility of printing techniques allows him to blur out facial features, a study in the anonymity of crowds.

Heads of a Man and a Woman (c.1880)
Also on display are Degas’s etchings to accompany writer Ludovic Halévy’s La Famille Cardinal (1883) and prints of women ironing (a favourite subject) accompanied by a discussion on the connections between the artist and his contemporary Emile Zola.

Woman Reading (c.1885)
If you find yourself at a loose end this holiday weekend in New York or can make it to MoMA on the (free!) Friday afternoons/evenings then the exhibition, running until July 24, is well worth checking out.

Do you know of any other NYC exhibitions you’d like the Secret Victorianist to review? Let me know—here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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