Sunday, October 28, 2007

Art Sunday - Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas is often identified as an Impressionist, which is an understandable but insufficient description. Impressionism originated in the 1860s and 1870s and grew from the realism of such painters as Courbet and Corot. The Impressionists painted the realities of the world around them using bright, "dazzling" colors, concentrating primarily on the effects of light, and hoping to infuse their scenes with immediacy. Degas differs in that he does not use, as art historian Frederick Hartt says, the Impressionist color fleck", and he continually belittled their practice of painting en plein air. Degas is described more accurately as an Impressionist than as a member of any other movement, however.

His scenes of Parisian life, his off-center compositions, his experiments with color and form, and his friendship with several key Impressionist artists, most notably Mary Cassatt and Edouard Manet, all relate him intimately to the Impressionist movement which defied the classical compositions and rules.

Degas defied the convention in the the painting above, The Ballet. To show he back of people's heads was previously unthinkable in art. Even in a more conventional subject like ballet dancers he takes the different view. The Ballet Class shows the backs of several dancers. And places the master of the dance as a diminutive figure off center.

He liked complex compositions of mundane subjects like the following painting of the New Orleans Cotton Exchange. And like the painting above he shows his mastery of perspective.

But one of my favorite paintings of his is the Absinthe Drinker. It was a stirring commentary of the times and the simplicity of the composition with the plain angles of the tables makes it all that much more stunning. Absinthe was a beverage with a narcotic effect and had much the same effect on French society that Meth has had on ours.

For more about the life of Edgar Degas see Wikipedia. And enjoy the Art Sunday tour.

For Y!360 participants see this tour link.