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January 7, 2012

Degas and the Nude - Exhibition at MFA Boston and Orsay Paris

Degas and the Nude
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Through February 5, 2012Musée d'Orsay, Paris March 12 - July 1, 2012
Edgar Degas, La Toilette, 1884-1886 La Toilette, 1884-86
Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Pastel over monotype laid down on board
Private Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Degas and the Nude is the first museum exhibition devoted exclusively to the extraordinary range of nudes by Edgar Degas. The exhibition traces their evolution from the artist’s early years, through the private and public images of brothels and bathers in the 1870s and 1880s, to the post-Impressionist nudes of the end of his career. Degas and the Nude is presented by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), and the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. On view through February 5, 2012, at the MFA, the exhibition offers a groundbreaking examination of Degas’s concept of the human body during the course of 50 years by showing his work within the broader context of his forebears, contemporaries, and followers in 19th-century France, among them Ingres, Delacroix, Cassatt, Caillebotte, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, and Picasso. Assembled from the collections of more than 50 lenders from around the world are 160 works—140 by Degas—including paintings, pastels, drawings, monotypes, etchings, lithographs, and sculptures, many of which have never been on view in the United States.  After its debut in the MFA’s Ann and Graham Gund Gallery—its only US venue—Degas and the Nude will be shown at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
The 19th-century French artist EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917), a founding member of the Impressionist group who gravitated toward realism, is acclaimed for his mastery of a wide range of genres, which he executed in all media using a variety of techniques. In addition to his famous depictions of ballet dancers or racing subjects, Degas’s work also included history paintings, portraits, landscapes, and scenes of urban leisure. This exhibition, however, focuses entirely on his nudes, illustrating the transformation of Degas’s treatment of the human form throughout half a century—from early life drawings in the 1850s, to overtly sexual imagery, to gritty realist nudes, and beyond to the lyrical and dynamic bodies of the last decade of his working life when the theme dominated his artistic production in all media.
Degas and the Nude will be a revelation for our visitors.  It will offer a number of surprises—for instance, we’ll reunite several of Degas’s black-and-white monotypes with the corresponding pastel ‘twins’ for the first time since they left the artist’s studio,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA.  “Visitors will see the progression of his nudes and the very heart of Degas’s fascination with the body and its range of emotion and movement.  He pursued that fascination in portraits, and above all in images of dancers, but in the nude we see the body in its purest form…through Degas’s eye and imagination.”
Edgar Degas, Woman Leaving Her Bath, about 1886 Woman Leaving Her Bath, about 1886
Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Pastel over monotype
Private Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Degas and the Nude draws from some of the finest collections in the world. In addition to the MFA, Boston, and Musée d’Orsay, Paris—the single largest lender, with more than 60 works—these include the National Gallery and Courtauld Gallery, London; the Musée Andre Malraux, Le Havre; museums and private collections in Germany, Japan, and Switzerland; as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among many other museums and private collections in North America.  The exhibition features such masterpieces as Young Spartans Exercising (1860-62, National Gallery, London) and Scene of War in the Middle Ages (1863-65, Musée d’Orsay, Paris), two of Edgar Degas’s greatest history paintings; and The Tub (about 1886, Musée d’Orsay), a pastel completed at the height of his career and presented at the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886.  It also offers context to this exploration of the artist’s nudes by juxtaposing his works with those created by major artists who influenced—or were influenced by—Degas, including Caillebotte’s Man at his Bath (1884), a masterwork recently acquired by the MFA; Ingres’s Angelica Saved by Ruggiero (1819-39, National Gallery, London); and Picasso’s Nude on a Red Background (1906, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris).
Edgar Degas, After the Bath, Woman with a Towel, 1893-1897 After the Bath, Woman with a Towel, 1893-97
Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Pastel on brown cardboard
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Mrs. J. Montgomery Sears
Photo: Allan Macintyre © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

More than three years in the making, Degas and the Nude was conceived by George T.M. Shackelford, Chair, Art of Europe and Arthur K. Solomon Curator of Modern Art at the MFA, who co-organized the exhibition with Xavier Rey, Curator of Paintings, Musée d'Orsay. 
“Our project explores how Degas exploited all of the body’s expressive possibilities,” Shackelford said.  “It shows how his personal vision of the nude informed his notion of modernity, and how he abandoned the classical or historical form in favor of a figure seen in her own time and setting, whether engaged in shockingly carnal acts or just stepping out of an ordinary bath.” 
“The first works by Degas to enter the collections of the French State were pastels of nudes bequeathed to the nation by Gustave Caillebotte in 1894,” said Xavier Rey, exhibition co-curator.  “In the ensuing century, the Musée d’Orsay has become the world’s greatest repository of Degas’s depictions of the nude—in paintings, pastels, drawings, and sculpture.  We take pride in co-organizing this major international project, which will be one of the important exhibitions in Paris in 2012.”
Degas and the Nude is organized into six sections, which explore:
o  Degas’s earliest nudes, from about 1855 to 1862
o  The artist’s early masterwork, Scene of War in the Middle Ages, and the studies that preceded it
o  Brothel monotypes Degas executed in the latter half of the 1870s
o  Transformation of Degas’s brothel imagery to scenes of daily life
o  Select works from the artist’s key years of 1884-86
o  Degas’s last years as an artist, from about 1890 to 1905
Edgar Degas, The Morning Bath, about 1887-1890 The Morning Bath, about 1887-90
Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Pastel on off-white laid paper mounted on board
The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Potter Palmer Collection, 1922.422
Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago.
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

DEGAS AND THE NUDE: THE ARTIST’S EARLIEST NUDES, FROM ABOUT 1855 TO 1962 – The exhibition begins with a selection of the artist’s first nudes, including Study of Michelangelo’s Bound Slave (1855-60, Private Collection), one of Degas’s many studies of works by Renaissance artists that he made in Paris or in Italy, where he drew from live models at Rome’s French Academy. Many life studies and paintings created as part of this early academic training will be on display, as well as drawings made for early figural compositions, culminating in the painting Young Spartans Exercising (1860-62, National Gallery, London), a depiction of girls beckoning or taunting a group of boys, with the landscape of ancient Sparta as a background. 

DEGAS AND THE NUDE: THE ARTIST’S EARLIEST MASTERWORK, SCENE OF WAR IN THE MIDDLE AGES, AND THE STUDIES THAT PRECEDED IT –  One of Degas’s most notable works incorporating nudes, the history painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages, is the focal point of the second section of the exhibition.  The often overlooked masterpiece was the first work Degas exhibited at the official Salon in 1865. It offers an early view of some of the many poses the artist would repeat throughout his career.  Complementing it are more than a dozen of the studies that preceded it, as well as works by other artists who exerted an influence on Degas in the conception and elaboration of the painting, such as Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), whose Angelica Saved by Ruggiero is displayed along with a masterwork by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863): The Death of Sardanapalus (1844, Philadelphia Museum of Art).  These two French masters, as well as artists such as Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898), provided inspiration for the young Degas.  Two paintings by Degas from the later 1860s are also shown: Interior (The Rape) (1868-69, Philadelphia Museum of Art) and Peasant Girls Bathing in the Sea at Dusk (about 1869, revised later, Private Collection).  

DEGAS AND THE NUDE: BROTHEL MONOTYPES DEGAS EXECUTED IN THE LATTER HALF OF THE 1870s – This third section exhibited images that are at times caricature-like, ironic, pornographic, or even unexpectedly tender.  These often sexually explicit scenes depict women in brothels: waiting for clients, as in The Serious Client (1876-77, National Gallery of Canada), and engaging in sexual acts, as in Two Women (1876-77, MFA).  Most of these works are relatively small in scale, made as drawings using brush and greasy ink on metal plates, which were then printed to yield one proof (“mono-type”); sometimes a second, fainter, impression was taken.  The monotypes were occasionally touched with pastel; some—more often the second impressions—were completely covered with color to become small pictures, ready for sale or gift.  

Edgar Degas, After the Bath. Woman Drying Herself, about 1896 After the Bath (Woman Drying Herself), about 1896
Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with funds from
the estate of George D. Widener, 1980
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

DEGAS AND THE NUDE: TRANSFORMATION OF DEGA’S BROTHEL IMAGERY TO SCENES OD DAILY LIFE – The evolution of Degas’s nudes shifting from overtly sexual imagery to the everyday, “naturalist” nudes, as seen in the artist’s spontaneous views of ordinary, seemingly unposed women at various stages of undress or performing “la toilette”—bathing, drying, or grooming themselves.  These monotypes highlight the emergence of the bather as a central theme in Degas’s art—one that he would explore from the middle of the 1880s until the end of his career.  The pictures on this post illustrated this part of the work of Edgar Degas. Many of these later monotypes were made in a way that differed from the first ones, showing the artist’s interest in exploring a variety of techniques and materials. Rather than painting his image with a brush, Degas inked the entire plate and “pulled” the image out of the ink with selective wiping and scraping. In this section, some monotypes are united with their corresponding pastels for what is believed to be the first time. These include the monotype Woman in a Bathtub (about 1850-85, Private Collection), the pastel over monotype Woman in Her Bath, Sponging her Leg (1883-84, Musée d’Orsay) and artworks that are reproduced here, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Other pastels and oil paintings are featured here, as well as comparisons to the work of Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844-1926), Woman Bathing (1890-91, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), La Toilette (Rousse) (1889, Musée d’Orsay).  The section culminates in a group of large-scale oil paintings by Degas and his friends Gustave Caillbotte (1848-1894) and Henri Gervex (1852-1929), made between the years 1878 and about 1884. 

Edgar Degas, Nude Woman Drying Herself, 1884-1892 Nude Woman Drying Herself, 1884-92
Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Oil on canvas
Brooklyn Museum, Carll H. de Silver Fund 31.813
Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

DEGAS AND THE NUDE: SELECT WORKS FROM THE ARTIST’S KEY YEARS, 1884-86 – Works from this pivotal time in Degas’s career are examined in section five of the exhibition.  Two examples, The Tub (1885-86, Musée d’Orsay) and Woman Dressing Herself (1885-86, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC) were included in the last Impressionist exhibition, held in Paris in the spring of 1886.  In addition, comparative paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Woman Combing Her Hair (1882-83,  Private Collection), and Puvis de Chavannes, Young Woman at Her Toilette (1883, Musée d’Orsay), will be displayed, as well as works from the late 1880s that expand upon those created a few years earlier.  Also included is the sculpture The Tub (Musée d’Orsay, 1889 modeled, cast 1920–21), cast in bronze after the artist’s death.  

DEGAS AND THE NUDE: DEGAS’ LAST YEARS AS AN ARTIST, FROM ABOUT 1890 TO 1905

 This section concludes the exhibition.
“During this period, Degas is focused almost exclusively on the bather, with the exception of a few great drawings and sculptures depicting dancers.  His color sense grows bolder, and as he nears the end of the 1890s, his painting and drawing techniques become more experimental and, likewise, more bold,” explained Shackelford.  “Influences of such artists as Gauguin and Rodin are felt in his painted compositions and sculpture.  Sinuous lines, sensual hatchings, delicate blending and shading, and large scale mark his later charcoal drawings of bathers, among the most accomplished sheets in his career, and a radical departure from the carefully rendered nudes of 1855–1865.” 
Featured here is the largest single grouping in the exhibition, which showcases Degas’s masterpieces, After the Bath (about 1896, Philadelphia Museum of Art) and After the Bath (1895-1900, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC).  In addition, to illustrate Degas’s influence on the next generation of great artists, paintings by Degas are juxtaposed with those by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Henri Matisse (1889-1954), and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). In the context of Degas’s great nudes of the 1890s, Bonnard’s Indolence (1899, Musée d’Orsay), Matisse’s Carmelina (1903, MFA), and Picasso’s Nude on a Red Background (1906, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris) take on new meaning, as masterworks by the youthful standard-bearers of Degas’s post-Impressionist style in a new century. 

DEGAS AND THE NUDE: EXHIBITION CATALOGUE
Degas and the Nude (MFA Publications, October 2011) is the first book in a generation to explore the artist’s treatment of the nude from his early years in the 1850s and 1860s, through his triumphs in the 1880s and 1890s, all the way to the last decades of his working career.  It aims to provide a comprehensive interpretation of Degas’s evolving conception of the nude and to situate it in the subject’s broader context among his peers in 19th-century France.  The 336-page book by co-curators George T.M. Shackelford, Chair, Art of Europe and Arthur K. Solomon Curator of Modern Art at the MFA, and Xavier Rey, Curator of Paintings, Musée d'Orsay, features essays by them and contributions by the painter Lucien Freud with author Martin Gayford, and by Orsay curator Anne Roquebert. More than 200 color images present a new look at Degas’s subject in paintings, pastels, drawings, prints, and sculptures. The price is $65 (hardcover) and $45 (softcover).  Degas and the Nude is available in the Museum’s shops and online at www.mfa.org/publications.  The exhibition catalogue was given generous support by the Andrew W. Mellon Publications Fund and Scott and Isabelle Black.
Presentation of the exhibition in Boston is made possible by Bank of America.  This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

MFA – MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTONBoston, MA 02115, USA
Museum's website: www.mfa.org







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