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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Degas, Edgar


L'Entree des Masques (The Entrance of the Masked Dancers)
1882
pastel
19.25"x 22 .5"
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute at Williamstown, MA, USA

Most of his ballet scenes were composed of diverse elements extracted and combined from a multitude of unrelated sketches made in the rehearsal rooms and stages of the Paris Opera. Nevertheless, the subject of this painting is believed to be taken from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni.

"Art is vice. You don't marry it legitimately, you rape it." (Degas)

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was a French artist famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist. A superb draughtsman, he is especially identified with the subject of the dance, and over half his works depict dancers. These display his mastery in the depiction of movement, as do his racecourse subjects and female nudes. His portraits are considered to be among the finest in the history of art.

Early in his career, his ambition was to be a history painter, a calling for which he was well prepared by his rigorous academic training and close study of classic art. In his early thirties he changed course, and by bringing the traditional methods of a history painter to bear on contemporary subject matter, he became a classical painter of modern life.

Certain features of his work remained the same throughout his life. He always painted indoors, preferring to work in his studio, either from memory or using models. The figure remained his primary subject; his few landscapes were produced from memory or imagination. It was not unusual for him to repeat a subject many times, varying the composition or treatment. He was a deliberative artist whose works were prepared, calculated, practiced, developed in stages. They were made up of parts. The adjustment of each part to the whole, their linear arrangement, was the occasion for infinite reflection and experiment.  "In art, nothing should look like chance, not even movement." (Degas)

In company he was known for his wit, which could often be cruel. He was characterized as an "old curmudgeon", and he deliberately cultivated his reputation as a misanthropic bachelor. Profoundly conservative in his political opinions, he opposed all social reforms and found little to admire in such technological advances as the telephone. He fired a model upon learning she was Protestant. "The artist must live alone, and his private life must remain unknown." "In painting you must give the idea of the true by means of the false." (Degas)