My mother and I went to the Degas: A New Vision exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston this past Sunday afternoon. It was packed with people from all walks of life excited to see the largest compilation of Degas works in decades (In fact it took me and my mom two separate visits to complete!)
Curated by the former museum curator at the Louvre, Henri Loyrette, the exhibit is a comprehensive look at Degas work and his evolution from a traditional painter to a modern artist breaking the rules of expression. From ballerinas to brothels, sketches and photographs, the Degas exhibit is a truly fascinating experience. The exhibit goes in order by time period and types of work. The different sections depict different stages in Degas’ life and reflect his interests during those times.
Edgar Degas was born to a well-off family that was able to support and cultivate his interest in art. He was taken to museums with his dad as a young boy and was put through art school in Paris. At school Degas started by learning and mastering figure drawings, many of which he would later impose on his large paintings, such as ‘Scenes of War in the Middle Ages’ and The Bather’s series.
Degas graduated school in Paris and left for Naples to start his career. Here he painted many portraits of people around him, such as friends and family. His most notable work done in Naples was his first masterpiece, “The Bellelli Family”, which depicts his aunt and her family. Much of the work Degas did in Naples was practice. He had yet to find his individual style that is now unmistakably Degas–large strokes, vibrant colors, and feminine figures.
By the 1870s, Degas had developed an Impressionist style of painting. It was then that he produced arguably his most well-known series of works–the ballerinas. Ethereal, pastel, and elegant, the ballerina series is dedicated to the beauty of the young ballet dancers in Paris. It shows the goings-on behind the scenes of the ballet and the unseen, grueling practices. Degas painted and sketched these dancers so realistically and beautifully, however, it is unknown whether he actually even saw them practice in person. He did, however, attend the ballet performances often. A large portion of the exhibit is dedicated to the ballerina paintings, and even includes the sculpture “Little Dancer of Fourteen.”
One of the most striking works in the exhibit is “Scene from the Steeplechase- The Fallen Jockey.” This is a pair of paintings that depicts a jockey that has been thrown from his horse. Degas used his brother as a model. One of the paintings, which was done shortly before his brother’s death, shows a jockey that was thrown from the horse, and is stunned, but will eventually get up. The other painting, which Degas’ painted after the death of his brother, shows a jockey thrown from his horse, looking dead. The scene is striking, life-like, and vivid. The two paintings are done on a large scale and show a shift to the modern technique of painting that Degas is remembered for.
The end of Degas life he was nearly blind, however, he never stopped creating art. He made a foray into photography, a relatively new art form at that time. His photography included mostly candid shots of his friends lounging around. Photography then was mostly used for posed portraits and candid shots were all but unseen. Again, Degas showed his innate ability to create art ages ahead of his time.
The exhibit Closes January 16th, and I highly recommend visiting. It is one of the most beautiful, comprehensive, and educational exhibits I have seen at the MFA.
For more information on Degas and artworks for sale by the artist, please visit his Artsy page–> https://www.artsy.net/artist/edgar-degas
MFA Degas: A New Vision at the MFAH
Pictures taken by me at Degas: A New Vision at the MFAH