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Exhibition at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek explores the complexities of Edgar Degas' artistic methods
Installation view of Degas' Method. Photo Anders Sune Berg - Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.

COPENHAGEN.- The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek presents a groundbreaking exhibition addressing the complexities of Edgar Degas' (1834 – 1917) artistic methods. Degas' Method closely examines the approaches and preoccupations behind Degas' innovations, considering his works across their extraordinary variety. It challenges the conventional categorisation of his output by motif and media — into dancers, portraits, horses, landscapes; pastels, paintings, drawings and sculptures — approaching his oeuvre as a whole so as to better understand the nature of his originality. As one of only four institutions in the world to own a complete set of Degas' bronzes, as well as possessing major works in paint and pastel, the Glyptotek is in a unique position to address the tendencies in Degas' oeuvre which concerned him throughout his life.

Degas was a paradox. A depicter of contemporary life committed to creating a 'New Painting', he was also insistent on the importance of tradition, copying and responding to the works of past masters throughout his career, and superb draughtsmanship unites all his works. Degas' processes reward scrutiny. He changed the premises for painting and sculpture for good, anticipating many of the artistic developments of the twentieth century, especially in his determined examination of the figure, yet also renewing the genre of landscape. His methods were multiple, involving an enormous range of media and techniques which crossed over between painting, sculpture and printmaking, opening fresh terrain for invention. Images were physically built up in layers, their compositions sometimes manipulated over years, and motifs were approached again and again. It was through patient observation that he so convincingly depicted the body in movement, manipulating time and narrative sequence so that subjects are distilled from life rather than depicted: for Degas, who eschewed the Impressionist vogue of painting en plein air for a resolutely studio-based practice of intense deliberation, art was always an artificial affair.

Degas' Method brings together masterpieces from the Glyptotek's permanent collection with an outstanding array of works borrowed internationally. Under the curatorship of Line Clausen Pedersen, the exhibition mixes together paintings, pastels, monotypes, lithographs and drawings, presenting very familiar pieces in dialogue with unusual works that evade categorisation, and allowing the interrelationships between Degas' treatment of different media to come to the fore. It looks at Degas' relationship to Impressionism, the movement to which he adhered yet differed substantially from; and also considers his art in the context of his colleagues across time, notably his idols Ingres, Delacroix and Daumier — works by whom formed part of his own personal collection. In one gallery, the display of sculptures and graphic work takes the intensity and heterogeneity of Degas' studio as its cue; elsewhere, conservation scholarship sheds light on the way in which Degas created his images, showing through infrared and x-ray analysis how one particular painting evolved over the course of two decades. What emerges both from the close study of individual works and across the spectrum of his output, is Degas' insistence on invention through continuity and on an art set free of obligations to reality — an art that is not about representation, but about the complexities of art itself.

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June 11, 2013

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