Exhibition On Screen
DEGAS – PASSION FOR PERFECTION
From The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Featuring a post-screening Q&A with film-maker Phil Grabsky on 14 May
“Art is not a matter of what you see, but what you make other people see.”
– Edgar Degas
Journey from the streets of Paris to the heart of the acclaimed exhibition of one of the most celebrated artists in history, Edgar Degas, at the The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Marking the centenary of the artists death, this impressive collection spans Degas career, which lasted over fifty years. Featuring exclusive access to view rare and diverse works, Degas – Passion for Perfection tells a fascinating story of Degas’ pursuit for perfection through both experimentation with new techniques and lessons learnt from studying the past masters.
Sometimes frustrated by his own failings, Degas was consumed by obsessive principles and failing eye sight but his determination to capture everyday life was evident in every mark he made. Never fully satisfied, many of Degas’ drawings and sculptures were kept in private during his lifetime but, now through close examination, they can be seen as some of the most beautifully detailed and expressive works in the modern era. Using written accounts by friends and commentators, and the narration of letters written by Degas himself, this film reveals a more complex truth behind one of the most influential French artists of the late 19th-century and serves as an exploration of the complex workings of Degas’ artistic mind.
Reviews for the Exhibition
★★★★ – Daily Telegraph
“The show offers insight rather than simply adulation.” – Financial Times
“Stunning.” – Evening Standard
E – Exempt from Classification
Dates & Times
General Public Screenings
Tuesday 14 May 2019 at 6:30pm (Includes Q&A)
Saturday 8 June 2019 at 2pm
Sunday 16 June 2019 at 11am
Left Self Portrait with Evariste de Valernes (1816 – 1896) c.1865 (oil on canvas), Degas, Edgar / Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France / Bridgeman Images
Right Dance Examination (Examen de Danse), 1880. Pastel on paper; 24 1/2 x 18 in. Denver Art Museum: Anonymous gift, 1941.6. Photography courtesy of Denver Art Museum
EDGAR DEGAS (1834 – 1917)
Edgar Degas was a French artist born in the city of Paris. His full name was Hilaire Germain Edgar, and he has lived all his life in his hometown. Edgar’s father was a banker by profession, and his mother was originally from New Orleans, in the United States.
As a child, Edgar had a deep passion for music as his mother was once an opera singer while his father used to arrange music for recitals held in the Degas’ home. To pursue his love for music, Degas was sent to the Lycee Louis-le-Grand where he took up classical education.
In addition to music, Degas was skilled in painting and drawing. He found support and motivation from is father who was talented and passionate about art. By the time he was 18 years of age, Degas had a rare opportunity to copy or replicate art techniques by various artists whose works were featured at the Louvre. With this opportunity, he was able to create exceptional copes of the Raphael while studying the styles of Eugene Delacroix and Ingres, among other contemporary painters.
In the year 1955, the young artist was admitted to the Academie des Beaux Arts, which is now known as the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. After about a year of studying in this institution, Degas decided to leave school and pursue more time in Italy where he learned to paint and explore numerous places in this fine country.
While in Italy, Degas decided to copy some of the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio who were considered as some of the artist’s inspirations. The masterpiece of these artists became the source of inspiration to the young artist.
He finally returned to Paris, during the year 1859. By this time, he was already creating a great image as a painter. For Degas, he was more fascinated with the traditional approach of painting where he featured great historical scenes and large-scale family portraits. When he decided to submit some of his works to the Salon, he encountered certain challenges along the way. The Salon was led by French artists and mentors who also took the lead over public exhibits.
However, the group had a conventional concept of beauty. They ended up making Degas feel as though his works did not matter, and these were quite tough to handle. So he improved his style when he met Edouard Manet who was his fellow artist. According to Degas, artists should consider taking a newer approach to painting, as reflected in his works.
In the year 1868, the artist was tasked to become among the members of avante-garde artists throughout that time. These renowned artists included Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh. They frequently met at the Cafe Gerbois in France where they discussed different modern art techniques that were often presented in their artworks.
The group meetings held at that time also took place during France’s difficult period in history. By the time wars ceased, the Paris Commune was able to hold great control of Paris for about two months. This period ended when Adolphe Thiers successfully led a bloody civil war that helped rebuild France’s Third Republic. Degas was able to spare himself from the difficult times caused by the war as he visited his relatives in the United States, particularly in New Orleans.
When Degas returned to his hometown in 1873, he was joined with other artists including Sisley and Monet who made up the Societe Anoyme des Artistes. The group was dedicated to setting up art exhibits that were not under the control of the Salon. Eventually, these became the very same artists who referred to themselves as Impressionists. These artists also held their initial impressionist exhibition in 1874. Among the subjects featured in Degas’ work were images of women set in modern times such as ballet dancers, laundresses and milliners.
As the years passed by, the group of artists had eight other impressionist exhibitions where Degas often featured his own works. Several works by Degas were featured here including The Dance Class, The Dancing Class, Dancers Practicing at the Bar, and Woman Ironing. He also had a famous sculpture called The Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer, which became controversial, yet admirable at the same time. During his life, ballet dancer is a subject that Edgar Degas always returns to, as artists have always returned to beloved themes – Van Gogh his Sun Flowers, Cezanne his Apples, and Monet his Water Lilies.
Degas’s final exhibit featuring his impressionist artworks was in 1886. Here, he presented ten of his paintings, and these all included nude women in different bathing stages. However, these paintings also became the common topic of controversy. For instance, there were some people who referred to the women featured in the paintings as ugly while others considered his works as a brilliant means of presenting women based on his particular theme.
Despite the criticisms, Degas continued to paint nude women in various backgrounds. His works also commonly included dancers, where he successfully showed a dancer’s humility and grace both at the backstage and during the performance.
Degas lived an interesting life throughout the 20th Century, as he earned much praises and respect for his works. However, he was not as active during this period as he was more involved in becoming an art collector and promoter of his masterpieces. The artist was also never married, yet he became involved with a number of women.
Although the artist was regarded as among the finest impressionist painters in the world, his works had mixed reviews from people in the following years after his death. Some people viewed him as too involved in presenting women in sexualized portraits, which was one of the reasons why the artist was alienated from the modern art critics.
Nevertheless, it is worth noting that his early works were indeed impressive and inspirational at the same time. Thus, this artist is indeed among the best ones in history who is worth all the praises he received in his lifetime.