“Degas and the nude”, at the heart of the works of one of the greatest French painters of the 19th century
Exhibition "Degas and the nude"
Until 1st July, the Musée d'Orsay is devoting an exhibition to “Degas and the nude”. No ballerinas, horse racing or portraits… a wide variation of nudes in terms of technique, colour and situation. The nude – a tremendous invitation to explore the work of Degas and its development.
Degas et le nu
13 March to 1 July 2012
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
His beginnings with the Academy
Drawing nudes is the basis of any artistic training. Drawing the human body, capturing the nuances in its shape, discerning the personality of the model through gesture and posture… this is how Edgar Degas (1834-1917) learned to depict nudes and how to paint in general. The first few years produced a succession of drawings copied from antique sculptures and the Grand Masters, or created during life modelling sessions.
Up until 1865, Degas focused on painting history, continuing in the "grand genre", relating events drawn from history, the Bible and Graeco-Roman mythology. This is reflected in the study of many poses as just so many elements that make up the final composition.
The break from Classicism
In the 1870s, Degas painted a series of scenes from bawdy houses. These highly crude representations are both complex and intimate at the same time. His representations of the prostitutes' bodies, heavy and deformed, break away from the Classical nude and the ideals that he had been taught.
The break became even more serious in the following decade. Degas' nude women are painted while at their daily activities: bathing, doing their hair… Through his use of monotypes, Degas brings forth a natural but stunning sensuality against a dark background. Then came the use of pastels alone. His women become expressive and lively in banal scenes, often under artificial light.
Works rich in heritage
Degas said: “You need to work on the same subject ten, a hundred times”. For all that, his work is in no sense repetitive. Drawings, pastel, gravure, monotype, sculpture, painting, lithography… Edgar Degas varied his technique throughout his career, preferring a specific one during certain periods, ever in the endless pursuit of new modes of expression. Intriguing and sensual, luminous and ordinary, avant-garde and simple, Degas' nudes help us to understand the artist's position in art history.