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Friday, July 20, 2007

An impressive birthday: Edgar Degas

As Chicago's Art Institute is home to a large collection of great Impressionist paintings (see their web page Impressionism and Post-Impressionism for a sampling), I thought it important to recognize one of the masters of that movement. On July 19th in 1834, Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas was born in Paris to a wealthy banker.

Some of his most well-known works are those depicting ballet dancers in different snap-shot like poses representing the painter's impressions of a spontaneous and often off-guard moment. One of my personal favorites depicts quite a different scene, however. It's the 1876 oil-on-canvas Absinthe (see the detail image above), and I'm particularly captivated by the expression Degas captured on the woman drinker's face. There is a look of sadness and bemusement as she sits almost stoically among the seediness of her situation.

I read that the work of Degas shows unusual attention to composition for an Impressionist, with a special emphasis on balance, but those are details that escape my untrained and emotional eye. Unfortunately, later in life Degas was afflicted with vision problems that robbed him of his sight and art, and this led to the sorry state of his final days blindly wandering the streets of Paris. It's better to remember him in his prime by appreciating the many fine works he produced.
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