Heureux 178 Anniversaire Edgar Degas!

“Conversation in real life is full of half-finished sentences and overlapping talk. Why shouldn’t painting be too? “

 (Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas July 19, 1834 – September 27, 1917)

I guess it’s only appropriate that one of my favorite artists enjoyed music and dance, and was dubbed an “old curmudgeon” later in life by George Moore, writer and dabbler in la vie Boheme.

In the April 2003 issue of Smithsonian magazine, Paul Trachtman reported that Degas shared the following thoughts with Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard: “People call me the painter of dancing girls […] It has never occurred to them that my chief interest in dancers lies in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes.”

Like one of his most legendary contemporaries – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – he painted what he saw, in snapshot form, capturing a single moment in time as it happened, no matter the subject. His ability to crop images and portray movement with such purpose inspires.

Below is a bronze cast (with satin & gauze) of one of my favorite sculptures: “Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer,” aka “La petite danseuse de quatorze ans.” The 3-foot girl was originally executed in wax and cloth circa (1878-82), this is one of 28 editions cast in bronze between 1920-23 after Degas died.

"Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer"

Complete information regarding this piece of art can be found at the Boston Museum of Fine Art

The full background on the original version on view in the Mellon Collection at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. is located here.

Bloomberg News reported in February 2009 that one of the bronze casts sold for a record-breaking 13.3 million pounds ($19.2 million) at Sotheby’s London. In comparison, another version sold $12.3 million at Sotheby’s New York in 1999.

My other favorite piece by Degas is “Four Dresses,” oil on canvas, circus 1899. The original painting is also on view at the National Gallery of Art, but part of a different collection of Chester Dale’s.

I have an 11″ x 14″ print in my powder room and as my desktop wallpaper (yes I know it’s a PC, don’t chastise me! I’m waiting on the new iMac’s to debut). Photos are below:

What I could afford is a piece by a mixed-media sculptor Donna McCullough. Part of me wonders if this feminine tin can and mesh statue entitled “Auburn” was inspired at all by Degas and his ballet dancers. Since McCullough is local, I plan on reaching out to discover the answer. [I do know that he did influence his female friend, American painter Mary Cassatt.]

Upon looking at both the painting and the statue together, it makes sense now that it must have been my subconscious screaming out to me as I passed it on my daily walk to work in 2008.  The colors and style are similar, however McCullough’s is clearly more modernist. Self-processed appreciator of fashion, she does note the following in her artist statement:

“My inspiration arose from contemplating the dichotomy between the perception of women as fragile, delicate creatures, and the reality that most women are defined by resiliency and steely resolve. I employ a juxtaposition of extremes such as lightness and gravity, suppleness and intransigence, to convey feminine sensibilities.”

There isn’t a better artist representation of myself that I could ever envision, which is why I simply had to acquire it (which is bizarre, since I have never met McCullough) from the Zenith Gallery. It personifies me in every manner and sits in a place of prominence at my home.

Maybe that’s what Degas meant when he said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” 

Links to other celebrations of Degas today: