The black work of Degas

Paris. While the canvases and pastels of Edgar Degas (1834-1917) caused a sensation at the “Manet-Degas” exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay, the National Library of France (BNF) was interested in a more confidential but not less important part of the artist’s work: the work in black and white. The curators, Henri Loyrette, honorary president and director of the Louvre Museum and Degas specialist, and Sylvie Aubenas, Valérie Sueur-Hermel and Flora Triebel from the BNF, show how leaves and canvases previously approached separately according to their technique form a whole.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), The Matchmaker, monotype, c. 1879, 16.1 x 11.8 cm (image), Library of the National Institute of Art History, Jacques Doucet collections.

The one hundred and sixty works gathered for this demonstration tell of a passion: “If I had to redo my life, I would only do black and white”, wrote the painter in 1906 to the engraver and lithographer Georges Villa. One of the twenty-nine sketchbooks by Degas kept in the Cabinet des Estampes, Carnet 1 (1859-1864), is being restored and loose sheets are on display. Pen drawings and wash drawings make Henri Loyrette say that Degas “saw first in black and white” rather than in color. In 1874, during what we now call the “first Impressionist exhibition”, Edgar Degas showed, alongside the works of Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro, a grisaille oil on canvas titled Ballet rehearsal on the stage. Designpossibly a model for engraving. “But when you have everyone on your back to ask you for color!…”later regret the artist to the merchant Ambroise Vollard.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Self-Portrait, Etching, 23 x 14.3 cm, 1857 and Édouard Manet seated, facing left</em>, 16.3 x 11.1 cm, 1868, Library of the National Institute of Art History, Jacques Doucet collections.” typeof=”foaf:Image” class=”pic”/><figcaption>
<p>Edgar Degas (1834-1917), <em>self-portrait</em>Etching, 23 x 14.3 cm, 1857<br />And <em>Édouard Manet seated, facing left</em>16.3 x 11.1 cm, 1868.</p>
<p>ink paintings</p>
<p>From the print, he makes a new art of painting.  In 1857, this great admirer of Rembrandt etched <em>Young man seated in a velvet beret</em> (1637) and made his own self-portrait using the same technique.  But, says Valérie Sueur-Hermel in the catalog, it was in 1875 with her friends Giuseppe De Nittis and Marcellin Desboutin <em>“that a taste is reborn in Degas that will quickly become a passion”.</em> It leads him to buy a printing press and to invent various ways of creating works before their magic only in ink.  It does not produce “multiples” but single prints of successive states of the same plate.  One of the techniques he uses, the monotype taught to him by his friend Ludovic Lepic and of which he becomes a virtuoso, makes it possible to print what can be considered as two ink paintings, one very heavy in matter, the other paler which he often uses as a base for a pastel.  A superb selection of these works allows you to admire <em>Factory smoke</em> (circa 1877-1879) and <em>The fireplace</em> (circa 1880-1885) on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) or <em>Woman standing in bathtub</em> (circa 1880-1885) from the Musée d’Orsay.</p>
<p>In 1895, Degas finds a new way of creating in black and white: photography allows him to continue his research on chiaroscuro in the continuity of Rembrandt.  This is an opportunity for the BNF to present pages from the Halévy Albums which, with the monotypes <em>night scene</em> And <em>At the foot of a tree</em> (circa 1877-1880), are recent acquisitions that complete his remarkable Degas collection.</p>
<article class=Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Self-portrait with Zoé Closier in front of her library, photograph, 19.2 x 25.4 cm, 1895, BNF collection - Photo / BnF - Open License / Etalab

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Self-portrait with Zoé Closier in front of his library, photograph, 19.2 x 25.4 cm, 1895, BNF collection.

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