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Degas: A New Vision Experience

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One of the newest and most anticipated exhibitions to be shown at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston is Degas: A New Vision. As the only U.S. venue for this exhibition, it provides one of the most notable studies of chefs-d’œuvre produced by none other than the honored French artist Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Showing from October 16-January 16, 2017, this exhibition was a compilation of over 200 masterpieces spanning the late 19th to early 20th century from private and public caches from all over the world.

Famous for his oils and pastels, and rough graphite sketches of theatres, opera houses, and ballet classes, Degas is also well known for his love of printmaking, sculpture, and later, photography. Degas’ skills as a well-rounded and adept artist of varying media are extensively and effectively displayed. Though widely thought of as an Impressionist due to his dynamic interplays of light, both indoors (such as stage-lighting), and outdoors (as in his classic landscapes), Degas always considered himself to be more of an artist of realism, the first modern movement in art.

Degas was born in Paris in 1834 and had a thorough and accomplished schooling at the Lycee Louis-le-Grand. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, finishing his studies under art director Jean-Victor Schnetz of the Villa Medici. In this exhibition, one is able to travel through the changing muses and inspirations of the artist throughout his life, from portraits to landscapes, horseraces to brothels, bathers to ballerinas. The exhibition commences with Degas’ early portraits and studies of the human form, progresses to his interest in horseraces, showcases his love of ballet, the stage, and female bathers, and finally ends with Degas’ striking and revolutionary attempts at photography, with a few sculptures thrown in for good measure.

The exhibition also displays Degas’ influence on other artists, such as Édouard Manet, another fellow Impressionist/Realist. It showcases his rich, powerful, and stunning use of complementary, monochromatic, and analogous color schemes and highlights his adept use of varying techniques, such as hatching, cross-hatching, stippling, and shading. Degas enjoyed depicting the opulent and luxurious lifestyle of the bourgeois, shown in his numerous paintings of decadent theatres and opera-houses, which would have been occupied by those aforementioned.

Emphasis is put on his oils of ballerinas, arguably the most famous subjects of his works. These pieces are most memorable due to his bold use of stage-lighting, casting his dancers in an aura of ethereal and ghostly light. He then adds more interest to these paintings by using contrasting colors, both on the tutus of the ballerinas in the foreground as well as on the blurred and hazy backdrops of the stage in the background. The majority of his works however seem to be small, individual studies of larger paintings that he produced, mostly graphite and charcoal sketches. By progressing through his pieces, it is noticeable that the color schemes become darker and darker, with more use of shades than tints. This was due to Degas’ failing eyesight, which had actually been prevalent his whole life but became progressively worse towards the end of it.

All in all, this is one of the most inspiring and thorough retrospectives of a single artist in the world since the first showcase of Degas’ complete and comprehensive works in 1988. It was eye-opening, visually scintillating, and extremely memorable. It is definitely a must-see for art lovers of any kind! For those who missed the exhibition, detailed analyses of his works can be found at mfah.org.

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St. Thomas' Episcopal School Online Newspaper
Degas: A New Vision Experience