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Arts, Sports & Culture

Edgar Degas Exhibit Delves into Artist's 'Subtler' Works

Edgar Degas is perhaps most famous for his brightly colored paintings of ballerinas in 19th century Paris – but you won’t find any of those works in the exhibition at the Frick Art & Historical Center that premiered Saturday.

That’s according to Sarah Hall, Director of Curatorial Affairs, who said this exhibit will instead give visitors a glimpse into Degas’s other works that she described as “subtler.”

“We’re showing working drawings, the way he got to those paintings through a lot of study from life and a lot of draftsmanship, the way he used printmaking to experiment with composition and tonality and image-making and even photography,” Hall said.

Titled “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist – Works on Paper by the Artist and His Circle,” the exhibit includes more than 100 works on paper, about half from Degas himself and half from his contemporaries.

“There are drawings, there are various forms of print and there are photographs,” Hall said. “Some watercolors, some pastels, so a wide variety of works on paper that give a great sense of artistic life in the second half of the 19th century in Paris.”

According to the museum, the exhibit will delve into Degas’s personal life, his creative restlessness and experimentation as well as his wider artistic circle.

Though considered to be one of the famous Impressionist artists, who are most known for their choppy brush strokes and paintings of landscapes, Degas did not fit in with the impressionist label.

“He was not a ‘plein air’ (outside) painter…he’s lumped in with the impressionists, he was a galvanizing force in creating the impressionist movement and a leader there,” Hall said. “But we think of impressionists as painting outdoors and painting landscapes, and he really wasn’t interested in either of those things.”

According to Hall, the artist was complex: he was very witty and social, but also cynical and often shut up in his studio working.

“He had a notoriously prickly personality he was described by one contemporary in, I think 1890, as a sociable recluse,” Hall said.

Hall said the collection is being provided by Robert Flynn Johnson, who is curator emeritus of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

“He tells everyone who has a chance to speak to him that he was collecting on a curator’s salary and as much as he would love a degas ballerina, your average curator can’t afford that,” Hall said. “So he was looking for the kind of things that get overlooked by major buyers and was buying that’s that really appeal to him as a scholar and an academic.”

The exhibit continues to October 5th, and admission is free.