Yesterday, I had the pleasure of seeing the paintings and drawings of Edgar Degas (1834-1917) that I loved and copied as a child here in my own city for the Degas exhibition at the NGV Melbourne.
I loved drawing as a child and, somehow, I recognised his draftmanship and used to copy them. I remember how happy I was with my version of one of his washer women for a school assignment.
I had a little cry at seeing many of them in the flesh, their lines so familiar to me. I also cried over the painting of his father and the Catalan musician, Lorenzo Pagans, which you can see below, his father listening intently to the Spanish man’s guitar. The accompanying note says that years after the deaths of his father and the musician, Degas took his friend and art connoisseur, Paul Poujaud, into his bedroom to show him the painting. Poujaud recalled,
“He showed me the precious painting hanging above the little iron bedstead … I’m sure he did not show me the Pagans in memory of his father, whom I never knew and of whom he had never spoken, but as one of those completed works he admired above all others.”
And I’m stunned that as a child I was also instinctively responding to his treatment of women. Look on his works and note it well. His women are carnal, real, with bodily functions. They’re not prettified or sexualised, and they are infinitely interesting. Above all, they are members of the human race, not objects.
Look at his little ballet dancer with her second-last button not quite done up; his absinthe drinker resigned and hopeless with her companion in her Parisian drinking shop; his fellow artist Victoria Dubourg staring out at the viewer “with the forthright interest of a professional equal”; the young working-class woman after the violence at the hands of the bourgeois man lounging by the door; his sister and her husband’s frozen grief over their lost child.
It’s all sensational, wonderful and I LOVE HIM.
(Click on an image to enlarge)
Main image: Therésè De Gas, his sister, and her husband, Edmundo Morbilli, after the miscarriage of their much-anticipated child, “depicting them physically close but in a pose of frozen stillness.”