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A day with Degas


A retrospective of Degas from his earliest paintings to his final photographs is at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston until Jan 16. I had been to the exhibit in December but was pleased to return again to inspect the incredible range of work he completed.

Most of us think of his work as the ballet dancers or perhaps the women bathing but there was a lot more. He was born into a wealthy family, his father a banker and was able to afford private art school in France. He spent time with his aunt and her family in France and also spent time in New Orleans. He painted a lot of portraits but they are all in very unusual poses or they are occupied with a task such as playing a guitar or judging cotton. He made lithographic prints and monoprints with colored inks when the bank failed and he needed to support himself.

Always his paintings reveal something of human nature–the ballet dancer putting on her stockings, the bather straining to wash her toes. His preliminary sketching was detailed and intimate and then there is such a range of different techniques–one using essence–letting paint sit on newsprint until the oil is soaked away and then thinning with turpentine. And who would think about wetting tracing paper and dissolving pastels in water to paint with?

Of course he knew Delacroix and Manet–Matisse bought one of his unfinished paintings after his death and used it as inspiration for some of his work. He knew the impressionists but preferred his studio work although he did produce some lovely plein air landscapes for a London sale–again–he needed money.

His last works were in photography and not surprisingly many self portraits—but not the usual self portraits–they were in interesting poses as though someone opened a door quickly and took a casual photograph–or it was of two or more people and again not in formal poses.

At the end of the exhibit before we left, I had each of us choose our favorite piece. It was hard but I chose the Beggar Woman–an early painting very realistic—but then there wer some charcoal drawings that at first glance were just black outlines of limbs–but on closer inspection were delicately modeled musculature. Sherry chose the washerwomen ironing a shirt with one of them yawning and Jeanelle chose one of the bathers. We all really liked the sculpture of the girl trying to reach her toes to wash them.

We ate Mexican food and then spent a few minutes perusing the shelves of Texas Art Supply–I did not need a single thing and I came away without spending a penny—-but then there’s another exhibit at the MFA to see—-and the Menilimg_4539-m

more photos of the day including our favorites are here: https://sylviaweirphotos.smugmug.com/QuiltGroups/A-day-with-Degas/

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