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December 16, 2008

Artists and Photography - Degas

Edgar Degas enthusiastically photographed ballet dancers, his friends, himself, and other subjects. (If you click on the "ballet dancers" link, you will come to a web page that shows three of his negatives of photographs of dancers.) He referred to photographs while making some of his paintings and drawings -- not copying entire photographs but just using parts of them as a guide to certain details such as the twisted back of a woman bending over or the arms of a ballet dancer while in a pose that was hard to keep. As pointed out on this page on the same site, Degas eventually went back to relying much more on his sketches for his paintings as at that time a camera was not capable of capturing split seconds and a pose had to be held for a very long time, making it practically impossible to photograph a movement or casual position. Besides, it's hard to capture in a photograph what we "see" in real life. We do not see, for instance, action as a series of frozen stills -- we experience it as continuous movement, and so a painting or drawing made without reference to photos (but, instead, with knowledge of how people actually experience what they see) can look more real than what is captured by a camera. Making many, many sketches of real things as he saw them turned out to be of much more use to Degas than the camera, though he did appreciate some uses of photography as an aid to an artist, and he certainly had a lot of fun with it.

There is quite a lot more on Degas and photography on the above-mentioned site, and I recommend you click around to different pages.

Four Dancers - c. 1899
Oil on canvas
Edgar Degas, French Realist/Impressionist Painter and Sculptor,
Source: Humanities Web

The painting above is one of those that was made with the help of photographs.

According to this article, although Degas had been interested in photographs three decades earlier, he did not take up photography himself until he was sixty-one years old. "[In] a burst of creative energy that lasted less than five years, [Degas] threw himself into photography for a short but intense period." There is much more in this article about Degas and photography.

This article, entitled "Camera Obscura," in Slate Magazine, is about the 1999 exhibition of Degas' photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. There are small photographs from the exhibit here, but although you are supposed to be able to enlarge them, it didn't work for me. Watch the video below on this page to see many of Degas' photographs.

Note 1: A Los Angeles Times article entitled Reframing Degas is also about the exhibition of Degas' photographs.

Note 2: Since writing this post on Degas and Photography, I've written another called Degas and Photography - More.

Note 3: Excellent article on Degas and photography. It is an article called "Dance to the music of time" in RA (Royal Academy) Magazine, Autumn 2011

Note 4: There are now four posts in this series about Artists and Photography. This on on Degas is the second. The first was about Delacroix. The third is on Vuillard and Photography, and the fourth is the second post on Degas and Photography, mentioned in the paragraph just above.

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AC said...


Jean Vincent said...

The video? Yes, but only if it's seen in the largest size possible. It's awfully tiny otherwise. So, for others, if you haven't already thought of it, be sure to click on the little square with four arrows at bottom right under the video, in order to see it at the size of your monitor. :-) - Jean

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