Degas: A Passion for Perfection
by Jane Munro
Yale University Press
Edgar Degas (1834-1917) is heralded as one of the founders and masters of the impressionist movement, with the core of his oeuvre focusing on the life in Paris (think belle arts, ballet, café and theater) – nudes, lots of pink and white, the depiction of ornate clothes, exquisite dancing girls but more often than not mundane yet magic moments that are often overlooked: Ballerinas lost in mundane tasks and everything other than dancing.
Cue classical beauty, voyeurism par excellence and modern realism.
Degas considered himself an artist in the vein of Michelangelo, a book on which is reviewed in another recent blogpost,
What is interesting with Degas is that despite being influenced by the grand master Michelangelo, Degas had a weak spot for asymmetry, was an avid proponent of dramatic effect and averse to traditional composition.
What he achieved by that was scratching the surface and putting the focus on the hard work of ballet dancing and beauty in general that can be found beyond the surface.
A hundred years after Edgar Degas’ departure, the book is a well-made document that sheds light on Degas’ legacy and the influences it exerted on other significant artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, e.g. Francis Bacon, Picasso and David Hockney among others, comprising depictions not only of his more prominent and well-known paintings and sculptures, but also lesser known etchings, monotypes, and counter proofs, some of which are sources from private collections and shed light on for the first time, that give insight into the his creative processes.
Having a luminary like Jane Munro at the helm of the operation as her background and work for the University of Cambridge (as curator of the Fitzwilliam Museum as well as Director of Studies in History of Art at Christ’s College) ensures that her selection of contributors and their emissions is relevant and reveal interesting takes on Degas’ work.