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Exhibition of Degas Contemporaries Opens at the National Gallery of Australia
Clementine-Hélène Dufau, The sling 1898. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Gift of Orde Poynton Esq, AO, CMG, 1993.

CANBERRA.- Degas’ world: the rage for change, a complementary exhibition to the international blockbuster Degas: master of French art, opens today at the National Gallery of Australia. The exhibition showcases Edgar Degas’ contemporaries and the world that they inhabited, a world in the throes of social and economic change.

“Degas’ world: the rage for change is less about Degas than the world he inhabited. This world was the real world, one of sexual and economic exploitation, poverty, political commentary, industry and its pollution, and emerging feminism— themes that resonate today”, said the exhibition’s curator Mark Henshaw.

Featuring prints from the National Gallery of Australia’s very distinguished International Print collection, Degas’ world includes works by some of the late nineteenth century’s most famous artists: Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Mary Cassat, Paul Signac and Pierre Bonnard among others. These artists also exhibited in the revolutionary Impressionist exhibitions between 1874 and 1886 of which Degas was a key instigator. In addition, some of their most influential precursors, such as Camille Corot and Honoré Daumier, are highlighted.

“It’s easy to forget today how revolutionary the Impressionist exhibitions were. They broke away from the conservatism of the Salon, the organisation that had a stranglehold on French art practice,” said Ron Radford AM, Director of the National Gallery of Australia.

“This exhibition also highlights the depth of the National Gallery of Australia’s International Print collection, providing further context and enriching the experience of the major exhibition Degas: master of French art. A number of works have never been shown before.”

Degas’ world depicts the other side of Impressionism, one that explores the underbelly of Parisian life.

The world of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists seen in Degas’ world was one of factories, of pollution, of a dispossessed and alienated urban poor and of burgeoning feminism. For every dainty dancer in this exhibition, there is an aging strung-out junkie; for every innocent, oblivious child, there is the pathetic skin and bones of some has-been courtesan; for every summery frolic on a beach, there is a spectral face caught in the momentary light of a Paris night.

Together, Degas: master of French art and Degas’ world: the rage for change give a rich account of a volatile period of change in European art, and highlight the depth and breadth of practice of one of the key figures in bringing about this change.

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