Saturday, April 23, 2016

Degas: A New Vision

National Gallery of  Victoria  24 June  – 18 September 2016
In June 2016, an exhibition of one of the world’s most loved artists, Edgar Degas, will  open to the public. The  world - first exhibition Degas: A New Vision  will offer the most  significant international survey of Degas’ work in decades, presenting more than 200  works which showcase the artist’s talent in a new light; not only as a great master of  painting, but also as a master of drawing, printmaking, sculpture and photography. The National Gallery of Victoria and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will each stage this major retrospective, which has been developed by both institutions in association with Art Exhibition s Australia.   

 Rehearsal hall at the Opera, rue Le Peletier, 1872, by Edgar Degas. (Musée d'Orsay, Paris)

Degas: A New Vision will provide audiences with a rare  experience to truly  be immersed in the creativity and originality of  his art, giving visitors a deeper and richer understanding of his brilliance.’ Degas: A New Vision  will be presented  thematically,  grouping together the subjects which Degas continually returned to throughou t his career, including not only his famous ballet scenes but also arresting portraits, the nude, horse - racing, the social world of Parisian nightlife, and  women at work and leisure. 

Edgar Degas The Arabesque 1877 oil and essence, pastel on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Lemoisne 418 (RF 4040) © Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais /Patrice Schmidt

The exhibition will also explore the great technical, conceptual and expressive freedoms that  Degas achieved in his later years, and reveal his experiments with a range of mediums including sculpture and photography. This approach will emphasize Degas’ obsessive and highly creative working methods, and allow visitors to  enjoy the development of Degas’ art from its beginnings. 

Edgar Degas, The little fourteen-year-old dancer 1879–81, bronze with cotton skirt and satin ribbon, 99.0 cm (height), Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand, Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima (426 E)

Degas was fascinated by aspects of modern life  – voraciously painting Paris’ dance halls and cabarets, cafés, racetracks,  opera and ballet stages. He also s tudied the simple, everyday gestures of working women: milliners, dressmakers, and  laundresses. He was drawn to explore movement that was precise and disciplined, such as that of racehorses and ballet dancers, and absorbed a diverse range of influences from Japanese prints to Italian Mannerism.

Edgar Degas, The song rehearsal 1872–73 oil on canvas 81 x 64.9 cm Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington D.C


Edgar Degas was born in 1834 into a wealthy banking  family. Unlike many of his contemporaries, his family were  supportive of his artistic talent and desire to become an artist. Degas resisted being  labelled an ‘Impressionist’ yet  was at  the core of the movement’s most important manifestations. Classically trained, Degas initially aspired to be a painter of historical narratives. 

Edgar Degas, A cotton office in New Orleans 1873 oil on canvas 73 x 92 cm Musée des Beaux-Arts de Pau Lemoisne 320, © RMN-Grand Palais / Michèle Bellot / Madeleine Coursaget

As he matured, however, he made the depiction of daily life the central focus of his art. He was  drawn primarily to the human figure engaged in movement and work, sketching on the spot then working up his finished  compositions indoors in his studio. 

Degas’ obsession with the theatre and ballet in particular enabled him to explore his fascination with artificial light, which set him apart from the other  Impressionists who preferred to work out - of - doors capturing the transient effects of natural daylight. Degas absorbed many diverse influences, from Japanese prints to Italian  Mannerism, and reinterpreted them in innovative ways. 

Degas obsessively revisited and experimented with his favourite  themes which saw him fashion varied and unusual vantage points and asymmetrical framing. His depictions of ballet  dancers alone number in the hundreds. Such endeavours helped him to achieve the innovative and distinctive style which  will be explored in Degas: A New Vision. 

Degas served in the Franco - Prussian War of 1870 – 71 and began to experience  eyesight deterioration by the late 1880s. He increasingly took up sculpture as his eyesight weakened. In his later years, he  w as preoccupied with the subject of women bathing unselfconsciously and developed an expressive use of colour and line  that may have arisen due to his deteriorating vision. 

Degas continued working to as late as 1912. He died five years later in  1917, at the age of eighty – three.

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