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Dancers, Horses, and Women: Exploring the Fixations of Edgar Degas

An Australian museum readies for the first major exhibition in 30 years on the French artist and painter.
November 24, 2015, 6:00pm
Edgar Degas, Rehearsal hall at the Opera, rue Le Peletier, 1872, oil on canvas, 32.7 x 46.3 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, Lemoisne 298 (RF 1977), © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

The “decisive moment” that Henri-Cartier Bresson cherished in his artwork is forever too late for Edgar Degas, whose 19th-century paintings of Paris depicted the city in an off-guard state. Degas' subjects exist in the beat just before or after an action, and a new retrospective on Degas plans to explore this motif: how it originated, and how it formed a course across the artist’s mixed mediums.

The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia will premiere Degas: A New Vision, the first major retrospective of the artist in over 30 years. It examines Degas’ signature subjects—horses, ballet dancers, and female nudes—and the work that found him grouped into the Impressionist movement (a label Degas constantly downplayed). Produced under artificial light and studio boundaries rather than En plein air —outdoors — like his contemporaries, Degas’ work also rejected historical subject matter, choosing instead to highlight the day-to-day scenes of life in France’s capital.

Alongside Degas’ notable pastel and oil paintings, such as The Rehearsal, In A Café (The Absinthe Drinker), and The Arabesque, the NGV will also collect drawings, prints, monotypes, and sculptures from the artist, which play on his obsessions using new materials. The sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen depicts a young “opera rat”, standing at attention with arms behind her, made from bronze but also featuring a silk and cotton uniform. Critically reviled upon its first preview, the sculpture vanished from future showings during Degas’ lifetime. It was rediscovered after his death in 1917 with dozens of other statues.

Amassing this collection is no small feat for gallery director Tony Ellwood, who’s working with his team to gather pieces from over 13 galleries worldwide. However, based off the museum’s previous series installment, 2015’s Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great, the effort is worth it: that exhibition brought in 171,000 attendees. Degas famously said,“Art does not expand, it repeats itself,” but NGV’s exhibition promises proof of a career both massive in size and supremely focused in scope.

Degas: A New Vision runs at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne from June 24th, 2016 to September 16th, 2016. For more information and tickets, visit the NGV website. Related:

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