The first museum exhibition devoted exclusively to the extraordinary range of nudes by Edgar Degastracing their evolution from the artists early years, through the private and public images of brothels and bathers in the 1870s and 1880s, to the post-Impressionist nudes of the end of his careerwill be presented by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
(MFA), and the Musée dOrsay, Paris. Degas and the Nude, on view October 9, 2011, through February 5, 2012, at the MFA, will offer a groundbreaking examination of Degass concept of the human body during the course of 50 years by showing his work within the broader context of his forebears, contemporaries, and followers in 19th-century France, among them Ingres, Delacroix, Cassatt, Caillebotte, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, and Picasso. Assembled from the collections of more than 50 lenders from around the world are approximately 165 works145 by Degasincluding paintings, pastels, drawings, monotypes, etchings, lithographs, and sculptures, many of which have never been on view in the United States. After its debut in the MFAs Ann and Graham Gund Galleryits only US venueDegas and the Nude will be shown at the Musée dOrsay from March 12July 1, 2012. Presentation of the exhibition in Boston is made possible by Bank of America. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
The 19th-century French artist Edgar Degas (18341917), a founding member of the Impressionist group who gravitated toward realism, is acclaimed for his mastery of a wide range of genres, which he executed in all media using a variety of techniques. In addition to his famous depictions of ballet dancers or racing subjects, Degass work also included history paintings, portraits, landscapes, and scenes of urban leisure. This exhibition, however, will focus entirely on his nudes, illustrating the transformation of Degass treatment of the human form throughout half a centuryfrom early life drawings in the 1850s, to overtly sexual imagery, to gritty realist nudes, and beyond to the lyrical and dynamic bodies of the last decade of his working life when the theme dominated his artistic production in all media.
Degas and the Nude will be a revelation for our visitors. It will offer a number of surprisesfor instance, well reunite several of Degass black-and-white monotypes with the corresponding pastel twins for the first time since they left the artists studio, said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. Visitors will see the progression of his nudes and the very heart of Degass fascination with the body and its range of emotion and movement. He pursued that fascination in portraits, and above all in images of dancers, but in the nude we see the body in its purest form
through Degass eye and imagination.
Degas and the Nude draws from some of the finest collections in the world. In addition to the MFA and Musée dOrsaythe single largest lender, with more than 60 worksthese include the National Gallery and Courtauld Gallery, London; the Musée Andre Malraux, Le Havre; museums and private collections in Germany, Japan, and Switzerland; as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among many other museums and private collections in North America. The exhibition will feature such masterpieces as Young Spartans Exercising (1860-62, National Gallery, London) and Scene of War in the Middle Ages (186365, Musée dOrsay, Paris), two of Degass greatest history paintings; and The Tub (about 1886, Musée dOrsay), a pastel completed at the height of his career and presented at the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886. It will also offer context to this exploration of the artists nudes by juxtaposing his works with those created by major artists who influencedor were influenced byDegas, including Ingress Angelica Saved by Ruggiero (1819-39, National Gallery, London), Caillebottes Man at his Bath (1884, Private Collection), and Picassos Nude on a Red Background (1906, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris).
More than three years in the making, Degas and the Nude was conceived by George T.M. Shackelford, Chair, Art of Europe and Arthur K. Solomon Curator of Modern Art at the MFA, who co-organized the exhibition with Xavier Rey, Curator of Paintings, Musée d'Orsay. Our project explores how Degas exploited all of the bodys expressive possibilities, Shackelford said. It shows how his personal vision of the nude informed his notion of modernity, and how he abandoned the classical or historical form in favor of a figure seen in her own time and setting, whether engaged in shockingly carnal acts or just stepping out of an ordinary bath.
The first works by Degas to enter the collections of the French State were pastels of nudes bequeathed to the nation by Gustave Caillebotte in 1894, said Xavier Rey, exhibition co-curator. In the ensuing century, the Musée dOrsay has become the worlds greatest repository of Degass depictions of the nudein paintings, pastels, drawings, and sculpture. We take pride in co-organizing this major international project, which will be one of the important exhibitions in Paris in 2012.
Degas and the Nude is organized into six sections, which will explore:
*Degass earliest nudes, from about 1855 to 1862
*The artists early masterwork, Scene of War in the Middle Ages, and the studies that preceded it
*Brothel monotypes Degas executed in the latter half of the 1870s
*Transformation of Degass brothel imagery to scenes of daily life
*Select works from the artists key years of 188486
*Degass last years as an artist, from about 1890 to 1905
The exhibition will begin with a selection of the artists first nudes, including Study of Michelangelos Bound Slave (185560, Private Collection), one of Degass many studies of works by Renaissance artists that he made in Paris or in Italy, where he drew from live models at Romes French Academy. Many life studies and paintings created as part of this early academic training will be on display, as well as drawings made for early figural compositions, culminating in the painting Young Spartans Exercising (186062, National Gallery, London), a depiction of girls beckoning or taunting a group of boys, with the landscape of ancient Sparta as a background.
One of Degass most notable works incorporating nudes, the history painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages, will be the focal point of the second section of the exhibition. The often overlooked masterpiece was the first work Degas exhibited at the official Salon in 1865. It will offer an early view of some of the many poses the artist would repeat throughout his career. Complementing it will be more than a dozen of the studies that preceded it, as well as works by other artists who exerted an influence on Degas in the conception and elaboration of the painting, such as Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (17801867), whose Angelica Saved by Ruggiero will be displayed along with a masterwork by Eugène Delacroix (17981863): The Death of Sardanapalus (1844, Philadelphia Museum of Art). These two French masters, as well as artists such as Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (17461828) and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (18241898), provided inspiration for the young Degas. Two paintings by Degas from the later 1860s also will be shown: Interior (The Rape) (186869, Philadelphia Museum of Art) and Peasant Girls Bathing in the Sea at Dusk (about 1869, revised later, Private Collection).
The exhibitions third section will be devoted to the brothel monotypes that Degas executed in the latter half of the 1870simages that are at times caricature-like, ironic, pornographic, or even unexpectedly tender. These often sexually explicit scenes depict women in brothels: waiting for clients, as in The Reluctant Client (1876-77, National Gallery of Canada), and engaging in sexual acts, as in Two Women (187677, MFA). Most of these works are relatively small in scale, made as drawings using brush and greasy ink on metal plates, which were then printed to yield one proof (mono-type); sometimes a second, fainter, impression was taken. The monotypes were occasionally touched with pastel; somemore often the second impressionswere completely covered with color to become small pictures, ready for sale or gift.
The evolution of Degass nudes will continue in a following section, shifting from overtly sexual imagery to the everyday, naturalist nudes, as seen in the artists spontaneous views of ordinary, seemingly unposed women at various stages of undress or performing la toilettebathing, drying, or grooming themselves. These monotypes will highlight the emergence of the bather as a central theme in Degass artone that he would explore from the middle of the 1880s until the end of his career. Many of these later monotypes were made in a way that differed from the first ones, showing the artists interest in exploring a variety of techniques and materials. Rather than painting his image with a brush, Degas inked the entire plate and pulled the image out of the ink with selective wiping and scraping. In this section, some monotypes will be united with their corresponding pastels for what is believed to be the first time. These include the monotype Woman in a Bathtub (about 185085, Private Collection), and the pastel over monotype Woman in Her Bath, Sponging her Leg (188384, Musée dOrsay). Other pastels and oil paintings will be featured here, as well as comparisons to the work of Mary Stevenson Cassatt (18441926), Woman Bathing (189091, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (18641901), La Toilette (Rousse) (1889, Musée dOrsay). The section will culminate in a group of large-scale oil paintings by Degas and his friends Gustave Caillbotte (18481894) and Henri Gervex (18521929), made between the years 1878 and about 1884.
Works from a pivotal time in Degass career, 188486, will be examined in section five of the exhibition. Two examples, The Tub (188586, Musée dOrsay) and Woman Dressing Herself (188586, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC) were included in the last Impressionist exhibition, held in Paris in the spring of 1886. In addition, comparative paintings by PierreAuguste Renoir (18411919), Woman Combing Her Hair (188283, Private Collection), and Puvis de Chavannes, Young Woman at Her Toilette (1883, Musée dOrsay), will be displayed, as well as works from the late 1880s that expand upon those created a few years earlier. Also included will be the sculpture The Tub (Musée dOrsay, 1889 modeled, cast 192021), cast in bronze after the artists death.
Degas and the Nude will conclude with an exploration of Degass last years as an artist, from about 1890 to 1905. During this period, Degas is focused almost exclusively on the bather, with the exception of a few great drawings and sculptures depicting dancers. His color sense grows bolder, and as he nears the end of the 1890s, his painting and drawing technique become more experimental and, likewise, more bold, explained Shackelford. Influences of such artists as Gauguin and Rodin are felt in his painted compositions and sculpture. Sinuous lines, sensual hatchings, delicate blending and shading, and large scale mark his later charcoal drawings of bathers, among the most accomplished sheets in his career, and a radical departure from the carefully rendered nudes of 18551865. Featured here will be the largest single grouping in the exhibition, which will showcase Degass masterpieces, After the Bath (about 1896, Philadelphia Museum of Art) and After the Bath (1895-1900, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC). In addition, to illustrate Degass influence on the next generation of great artists, paintings by Degas will be juxtaposed with those by Pierre Bonnard (18671947), Henry Matisse (18891954), and Pablo Picasso (18811973). In the context of Degass great nudes of the 1890s, Bonnards Indolence (1899, Musée dOrsay), Matisses Carmelina (1903, MFA), and Picassos Nude on a Red Background (1906, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris) take on new meaning, as masterworks by the youthful standard-bearers of Degass post-Impressionist style in a new century.