Posts Tagged 'Edgar Degas'

I Wanna Dance With Somebody

This week the prep team installed a pastel by artist Edgar Degas (1834-1917) in the European Art galleries for a special viewing through April 15. Ballet Dancers on the Stage joins two other pieces by Degas currently on view—a bronze sculpture titled The Masseuse, and a small etching, Dancer on Stage, Taking a Bow. Works on paper like Ballet Dancers on the Stage require long periods of rest in between exhibitions to preserve their light-sensitive materials, so it is always exciting when they go on view.

Edgar Degas, Ballet Dancers on the Stage, 1883, Pastel on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. And Mrs. Franklin B. Bartholow, 1986.277

Edgar Degas, The Masseuse, 1896-1911, Bronze, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1965.26.McD

Edgar Degas, Dancer on Stage, Taking a Bow, 1891-1892, Aquatint and soft-ground etching on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. And Mrs. Alfred L. Bromberg, 1956.83

Edgar Degas was a French artist working in the second half of the 19th century who has become well-known for his paintings and pastels of ballet dancers. It is important to note that while Degas focused on the subject of ballet for over twenty years, he was interested in depicting many aspects of modern life. The DMA’s collection includes seven works by Degas with subjects ranging from ballerinas and bathers to an opera singer and a masseuse.

Dated 1883, Ballet Dancers on the Stage is a later work that reflects his involvement with the Impressionist group and his interest in Japanese woodblock prints.

Here are a few things to look for when you see the pastel in person:

• Try to count how many complete or partial ballerinas are in this scene and which arms go with each figure. Notice how Degas used brown outlines to define the forms of dancers’ bodies and costumes in the foreground, but he abandoned these outlines in the background and the figures lose clarity. Everything from the pastel’s sketch-like finish, to its varied levels of focus, and its jam-packed composition communicate that this is a fleeting moment of action. Similar to the experience of attending a ballet, we only get the finer details of the dancer who is closest to us.

• It looks like we are viewing the dancers from above and to the right, and within close range. This scene is from the perspective of an abonné or season ticket holder, who would have been seated in a box to the side of the stage. Abonné are supporters of the ballet who Degas sometimes portrayed as men in top hats.

• Notice how Degas has created an asymmetrical composition by tightly grouping the dancers in the upper right section of the paper while leaving the lower left corner open. Beginning in the 1850s Japanese woodblock prints were imported into Europe and they served as inspiration for many artists including Degas. Traditionally, Japanese woodblock artists create asymmetrical, diagonal compositions in which the vantage point off to one side rather than straight on. This 1834 print by Ando Hiroshige, Shono: A Rain Shower, is an example of a 19th-Century Japanese woodblock like those Degas might have seen. Notice the similarities in how these two artists have constructed their scenes.

Edgar Degas, Ballet Dancers on the Stage, 1883, Pastel on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. And Mrs. Franklin B. Bartholow, 1986.277
Ando Hiroshige, Shono: A Rain Storm, 1834, Woodblock print, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus, 1984.202.46

• The light source appears to be coming from the bottom left, presumably from gas foot lamps lining the edge of the stage. Notice how the lower left corner is lighter and the areas of the ballerinas’ bodies directly facing that corner have strong highlights.

• Degas was a master at using pastels to layer color. Here he uses the color of the paper as the shading for his figures and layers colors like white, blue, pink and yellow to create depth. His repetition of the color yellow in particular carries your eye through the entire scene.

Don’t miss your chance to see this object in person. It will be on view through April 20 and is included in the Museum’s free general admission.

Jessie Frazier is Manager of Adult Programming at the DMA

Mind’s Eye from a Different Frame of Reference

You still have time to come to the Dallas Museum of Art to visit the exhibition Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne before it closes on October 26. The show is a rare opportunity to see exceptional drawings, pastels, and watercolors by many of the most acclaimed European artists in the Museum’s collection, as well as some from many local private collections.  Linger in a gallery and closely study exquisite works by Renoir, Gérôme, Pissarro, Bonnard, and Mondrian. Then, before moving into the next room, step back a bit to view the broad array of frames that surround these fabulous artworks. The various shapes, designs, and colors add a pleasant texture to the walls and bring an unmatched intimacy to the overall experience.

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Consider the fantastic tabernacle frame surrounding Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret’s little gem Portrait of Gustave Courtois. With its liner plinth (or base), columns topped with Corinthian capitals, and crowning entablature, it’s easy to see that this sort of frame employs a structure and ornamentation inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The intricate gold ornamental foliage patterns coursing over the narrow, flat groves of dark green couple with rich gilding to elevate the mystery of the distinguished sitter, who was a fellow artist.

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Nearby is Théodule Ribot’s Head of an Old Man with Beard and Cap. This little drawing from the DMA’s collection was in storage unframed, but we did not need to go any further than our own Reves Collection to find something perfect. Based on 17th-century Dutch frames with waffle or ripple style moldings that were darkly painted to simulate ebony, this frame is enhanced throughout by long passages of inlaid tortoise shell. Then, to bring perfect harmony to drawing and frame, we added a custom-designed mat embellished with strands of pale blue, silver, and brown marbling that echoes the frame’s tortoiseshell.
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Like museums, artists were often quite particular about their frames. For example, Edgar Degas most likely designed the frame on his drawing After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself. This frame has the hallmarks of his most inventive design, which includes a soft overall gilding over a lightly rounded profile, enhanced with rows of thin parallel grooves. Degas called this frame a “cockscomb” or “cushion” pattern. The frames’ characteristic gentle curves subtly reinforce the arc in the nude’s back, as well as the fleshiness of her torso, buttocks, and arms.

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Even simpler than Degas’s frame is the one that Swiss artist Ernest Biéler designed for his L’épine-vinette. He polished the wood (oak) to bring out its subtle grain, allowing it to serve as a backdrop to the small strips of wood that step down at the sight edge, drawing our eyes toward the lovely portrait. Biéler followed a similar design scheme when made the frame for his Self-Portrait, which hangs to the left. Thus we see both of these works just as he intended.
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In the last room of the exhibition, you will find a fantastic frame on Pablo Picasso’s Still Life with Glass and Bowl. Although probably not designed by Picasso, its strong linear features and curvilinear gold leaf embellishments mirror those same aspects in the master’s drawing.

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If you are not ready to explore the rest of the Museum, return to the first Mind’s Eye gallery for a look at the one-of-a-kind mat surrounding Hubert Robert’s View of the Gardens at the Villa Mattei. The cartouche bearing the artist’s name is a work of art itself.

Martha MacLeod is the Curatorial Administrative Assistant for the European and American Art Department at the DMA.

Picture This

For many artists a picture was not finished when the paint had dried and the varnish was applied. The culminating step was framing the artwork. Only then was the project complete. Traditionally the artist had many options. He could choose a stock frame from a local cabinetmaker, or make a thoughtful selection from a skilled framer. Artists often possessed such a keen interest to frame a painting in a manner that perfectly complemented it that they designed their own.

The 18th-century British portrait painter George Romney (1734-1802) routinely joined forces with his preferred London framer William Saunders to produce frames of the artist’s design. Frame historians have studied Saunders’ detailed ledgers that record many of these collaborations. Romney’s decorative concepts coupled with Saunders carving expertise resulted in several exquisite frames. Regrettably, as a painting changed hands the new owner would often reframe it to suit prevailing tastes or to match the room where the artwork hung.

This may have been the fate of the original frame that once surrounded Romney’s Young Man with a Flute, which is now on view in the DMA’s European Galleries. Until recently, a simple wooden frame adorned with a gilt sight edge (the part of the frame closest to the canvas) surrounded the painting. That frame was more in keeping with the sparse ones typically used by artists working in colonial America.

George Romney, Young Man with a Flute, late 1760s in its simple wooden frame

Wishing to restore the painting to Romney’s well-documented vision for his completed works, the Museum recently purchased a frame from a London dealer with an expertise in the artist’s designs. Now a “Romney Style” frame surrounds the painting. It is a faithful reproduction of the artist’s 18th-century original. The archetype became synonymous with the painter thus earning its eponymous name.

Young Man with a Flute surrounded by its “Romney Style” frame

The approximately four-inch-wide burnished gilt neoclassical frame draws the viewer’s eye into the portrait. Its decorative elements include a rope-twist back molding, superbly carved gadrooning that traverses the circumference on the outside rim, a plain frieze, a small bead course, and a delicately reeded sight edge. The reproduction “Romney Style” frame harmonizes with the painting in a manner unrivaled by its wooden unornamented predecessor.

Compared to Romney, there are scant extant records of the frame choices made by the 19th-century artist Paul Signac (1863-1935). Last year, when the DMA acquired the French artist’s Comblat-le-Château, Le pré, it had a Régence Style frame that was popular very early in the 18th century.

Second from the right, Paul Signac’s Comblat-le-Château, Le Pré in its Régence style frame.

Its decorative components included a course of cross-hatching and punch work covering the entire frame. A fussy pattern of shells, fans, palmettes, C-scrolls, and foliage ornamented the center rails and corners, while a linen liner at the sight edge completed the overall design scheme. Although a lovely frame, it is not the prototypical choice made by a post-impressionist artist who worked in the wake of the pioneering painter Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Not only was Degas enormously influential to art history but he also revolutionized frame design. In fact, he believed that it was an artist’s duty to see his pictures properly framed. Earlier this year, the DMA heeded Degas’s mandate and purchased a new frame for its Signac.

Comblat-le-Château, Le Pré with its Degas style frame.

The picture’s new frame is a reproduction based on one of Degas’s most inventive designs. It features a lightly rounded profile embellished with rows of thin parallel grooves. The frame’s roundedness and fine fluting echo Degas’s “cockscomb” pattern, which he softly gilded but rarely burnished. Because of its shape, some call this format a “cushion” molding. The frame’s innovative streamlined repetitive forms do not compete with Signac’s lovely painting; rather their simplicity harmonizes with the picture to enhance it. While these before-and-after photographs illustrate the difference a frame can make, they pale when compared to seeing firsthand each striking painting now with its stylistically appropriate frame. On your next visit to the DMA, come view these superb frames and the paintings they surround.

Martha MacLeod is the Curatorial Administrative Assistant in the European and American Art Department at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Beginning a New Chapter

After four years of working at the Dallas Museum of Art, I have decided to continue my museum career working with docents at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. At the DMA, I worked with docents, teachers, and students.  I have also researched works of art, written materials for special exhibitions, and taught with works of art. These experiences have been invaluable, and they allowed me to grow as an educator, work with a wide range of audiences, and learn about the Museum’s collection.

One of the highlights of my job has been working with wonderful friends and colleagues at the DMA. Their ideas, support, and creativity impacted me greatly; I am fortunate to have worked with an amazing team.

Before I go, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite works of art. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

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Signing Off,

Amy Wolf
Coordinator of Gallery Teaching

Printmaking 101

Printmaking has been around since the fifteenth century.  There are many types of printmaking processes, such as woodcuts, etchings, engravings, lithographs, and monotypes. The earliest print technique, the woodcut, was used to illustrate books. To make a woodcut, the artist carved a design from a piece of wood and inked the block. Ink would only stay on the areas of the block that were not carved. Eventually, artists looked for new ways to create images, which resulted in etchings and engravings.  

Etchings and engravings were favored by artists. To make either type of print, an image is drawn onto a metal plate with a v-shaped tool called a burin.  The plate is coated in an acid-resistant surface and ink is beaten into the incised lines with a tool called a dabber. Then, the plate is submerged in an acid bath, which opens up the lines and exposes the metal surface. The acid creates the depth of line by reacting with the areas of exposed metal. Afterwards, the plate go through a printing press. In the engraving process ink rests in the engraved lines and the plate is run through a press. Both prints allowed for greater flexibility with images and a variety of lines and tones in the final product. 

Advances in the print world saw the emergence of  lithographs and monotypes during the nineteenth century. Lithographs are a direct medium; the image is drawn on a flat stone with a greasy oil or crayon and run through a printing press. Monotypes have ink drawn onto a glass or copper plate and transferred to paper. Monotypes produce one image; printing another image results in deteriorated quality.

To help you better understand prints, I included some images of the printmaking process. I hope you enjoy seeing how they are created! If you would like to explore works on paper in the DMA’s galleries, prints by the following artists can be found in the collection: Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre Bonnard.

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Amy Wolf
Coordinator of Gallery Teaching


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