The other Degas…

For lovers of Impressionism the Musée d’Orsay is the place to be in Paris. Plenty of iconic works of art of the second half of the 19th century in its permanent collections, but also great temporary exhibitions. This winter, it has prepared a very instructive exhibition about one of the public’s all time favourites: Edgar Degas. It is not to be missed for those who are keen to learn.




This time no retrospective of Degas’ ballerina paintings, but an exhibition that concentrates on the very foundations of his art: his drawing skills. The selection is historical, in the sense that it was not made by the curators but by Degas’ good friend and poet Paul Valery. The exhibition is based Valery’s book “Degas Danse Dessin” (Degas, dance, drawing) published in 1936 by Ambroise Vollard.  Valery penns down a non linear story of personal memories and anecdotes from other witnesses about Degas and illustrates it with a selection of 26 engravings of Degas’ work. It is especially astonishing how well the pastels are reproduced. Valery also gives us his own thoughts about art and painting and we learn that he did some painting himself.
The different sections of the exhibition are introduced by quotes from Valery’s book. The book, that was edited in a luxury version of 250 copies at the time, was purchased by fans of Degas amongst others Picasso which gives an idea of its quality and importance. In today’s money it costed about €1000. There exists a paperback edition of it now in a modified version for only … €250!
The exhibition is not very big, so you can walk it twice or trice to let it sink in good. This way you get an overlook first and then you can go back and forth comparing the exhibited works and concentrate on your favourites.
This is the kind of exhibition that makes you feel like you’re taking a giant step in the understanding of painting. Drawing is the basis of painting and here we are looking at a draughtsman who was recognised as a master of masters by many of his peers.

Go and treat yourself !

And if you are fond of pastels, then I hope you have the time to cross the river and go to the Petit Palais. An exceptional exhibition showing 150 pastel works from the collections of the museum are on display until the 8th of April. You can learn about the technique with examples from the mid 19th century until WWI.  Exceptional because pastels were often not preserved as they were sketches and because they are difficult to preserve, being sensitive to light and temperature changes. Most of the time they are therefore kept away from the public.

Here you can see pastels of the greatest masters of the 19th century, before they head back to their dark rooms.


Flavia Claes