Thursday, September 24, 2015

Chapter Eleven: Edgar Degas (#2)

While We’re at It, More Edgar Degas


Edgar Degas is probably the least loved of the impressionists whose revolution he helped lead. Based solely on his art, he should be one of the most admired, a pioneer whose work frames a part of art history not likely to be forgotten.

But his contentious nature, his strident anti-Semitism and the misogyny some claim to see in his paintings of women have made him an unpopular figure in contemporary art circles.

I think we should consider the art alone, without the personal shortcomings or overt mistakes. Mozart was, after all, also anti-Semitic, Caravaggio a murderer, Van Gogh almost entirely unlikeable in person and Beethoven a slob of proportions as outsized as his Ninth Symphony

A Cat in Degas's Hat Shop / © Deborah Julian
Maybe it’s the contrast with the other, gentle impressionists that makes his faults stand out. 
But we can forget them.

“His paintings portray the growth of the bourgeoisie, the emergence of a service economy and the widespread entrance of women into the workplace,” according to biography.com, quite a different enterprise than that of his contemporaries.

The honestly of his portrayals got him in trouble with a society that preferred to keep the more mundane sides of life out of the pictures. 


Among his subjects were laundresses and shopkeepers, plain and simple, recorded with honest, evocative detail. Among his most famous paintings of bourgeois life in Paris is The Millinery Shop. A stylish woman is trying on hats when, in Deborah’s version, Sam intrudes on the Nineteenth Century to attach an irresistible sash