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First major monographic exhibition in Paris devoted to Edgar Degas at Musée d’Orsay
A man view "Apres le bain" (femme nue couchee) , a painting by Edgar Degas as part of the exhibition " Degas and the Nude" in Paris. This exhibition has been organised by the Musee d' Orsay and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and takes place from March 13 to July 1, 2012. AP Photo/Christophe Ena.

PARIS.- The first major monographic exhibition in Paris devoted to Edgar Degas (1834-1917) since the 1988 retrospective at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, “Degas and the Nude” is part of the Musée d’Orsay’s aim to show developments in research relating to the great masters of painting in the second half of the 19th century, and follows the tributes paid to Claude Monet and Édouard Manet in 2010 and 2011.

Although some of the recurrent themes in Degas’ work, such as dance, horse racing, genre scenes and portraits, have been explored and presented in detail, the nude, which nonetheless holds an equally important place, has never attracted the attention it deserves. Degas in fact constantly represented the nude throughout his career, returning to certain motifs over and over again, readily repeating poses he had used several decades previously. Degas’ nudes therefore demonstrate more than any other genre his technical and stylistic evolution, and in themselves offer a genuine retrospective, helping to explain why Degas is such an important artist in the history of the 19th century avant-garde movements. In his work on the nude, Degas distils the essential elements of his early classical training and the art of the great masters of the past whose work he admired and copied while, at the same time, formulating a style of artistic expression in keeping with his own era, from the Naturalism of the 1870s to his research into movement and his radical approach to forms at the end of his career. A link between 19th century tradition and the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century, he was admired by Bonnard, Matisse and Picasso during their early careers.

The exhibition is laid out chronologically in seven sections highlighting the sudden changes and continuities over the course of almost 50 years of artistic activity: first, his early work as a student is evoked with studies based on classical Antiquity, the great masters and the life model, taking us to his first historical composition, Petites filles spartiates provoquant des garçons [Young Spartans exercising], on special loan from the National Gallery in London. Then Scènes de guerre au Moyen Âge [Scene of War in the Middle Ages], his final attempt at the Academic style in 1865, accompanied by a complete set of rarely exhibited preparatory drawings, will show how Degas gradually freed himself the constraints of tradition, and moved towards to Realism, embodied in the celebrated Intérieur [Interior (The Rape)] from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The definitive break with the idealisation of the figure then moves on to a series of monotypes of brothels whose pornographic nature meant that they could not be shown for many years.

Degas became increasingly interested in representing the women of his day, whom he succeeded in endowing with great dignity by using innovative techniques ranging from the monotype (a printing process that does not require engraving) to subtle chiaroscuro and, above all, pastel. In spite of their fragility and sensitivity to light, the exhibition is fortunate to have two versions of The Tub, the most prestigious examples of this medium that Degas raised to the highest level of achievement. Finally, an exploration of all the techniques the artist used, painting, sculpture, charcoal and pastel, will guide the visitor through Degas’ liberation from Naturalist accuracy, in a search for movement and a simplification of forms, with the last section devoted to the legacy Degas left the generations of artists that followed him. A study of how he moved between all his various techniques will highlight the artist’s innovative temperament and reveal another Degas, one equally fascinating and a key figure in the emergence of the Modern art movement in Europe. Special attention has been given to placing this polymorphous work in context, with a limited number of carefully selected works by artists who inspired Degas, who worked at the same time as him or who were strongly influenced by his work during his lifetime

Organised with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the exhibition presents a very rich collection of graphic works from the Musée d’Orsay, seldom shown because of their sensitivity to light, and exceptional loans from the greatest private and public collections throughout the world, such as those of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery, London and the Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

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March 17, 2012

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