Stephanie Strasnick previews the upcoming exhibition Degas/Cassatt at The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., on view from May 1 - October 5, 2014.
The show examines the artistic dialogue between the two artists. One example, Strasnick writes is that both artists [experimented] with unconventional media such as tempera, distemper, and metallic paints. In Degas’s Portrait after a Costume Ball (Portrait of Mme. Dietz-Monnin), for instance, the artist juxtaposed patches of smooth, matte pigment with wide strokes of metallic paint and delicate applications of pastel to create a textural and frenetic surface. Cassatt tested these materials as well in works like Woman Standing, Holding a Fan and Lydia Seated on a Porch, Crocheting. She also used metallics to add a subtle sheen to oil paint. In The Loge, she incorporated small bits of shimmering, simulated gold paint throughout the canvas to vitalize the scene... It is a common misconception that Cassatt was merely a pupil of Degas, when in fact both artists learned from and respected one another, and executed daring experiments using unconventional materials."
Roberta Smith muses on several unfinished paintings on view in the recently redesigned European galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Smith begins: "Unfinished paintings are enticing cracks in the facade of art history, lures along the path to a deeper understanding of artistic processes and impulses. For all the paintings that artists complete, countless others are left incomplete for any number of reasons — poverty or war, a change of plan or vision, the illness or death of the artist. While many of these works have been destroyed, and others forgotten, some are now recognized as significant works of art, accorded a special place in history and in an artist’s body of work, in part because they can bring us closer to understanding the mysterious process of painting, and, indeed, to painting’s future. After all, nothing inspires a young artist like a close look at how an earlier one worked."
Robinson writes that "the real treasures in the show come from the hand of Degas. Here we see five fine works, all depicting the ballet. These pieces appear both ancient and startlingly modern: ancient because although the Ballet is the 'subject,' the works really point at more universal concerns of physicality, gesture and the unspoken realm of body language. Like other great draftsmen such as the cave painters of Chauvet, Michelangelo, Ingres, or Kitaj more recently, Degas is able to conjure a physical and emotional response to his works. The movement of the bodies, diversity of touch, and brilliance of pictorial invention activate and provoke us as viewers. Degas used pastel in a free way, constantly changing his approach to suit the needs of a particular work."
Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco blogs about both the "beauty of small paintings," and the particular problems and rewards of working on an intimate scale.
Del Turco writes: "I find that small works are particularly successful when they depict a large space, still life or a figure, rather than something 'life size,' ... a small work is never 'a reduced version' of a large work, the painting process is intrinsically different... Small format is extremely difficult and takes a long time. Little paintings draw the viewer very close and need absolute perfection to pass such a close scrutiny. Small compositional shifts might turn into disasters and 'touch,' the way paint is deposed on the surface, is paramount. Paint doesn't necessarily need to be manipulated with small and controlled strokes, on the contrary it is often a free brushwork that makes these paintings stunning and keeps them clear of the boundaries with miniature."
Barry Schwabsky reviews the exhibition Degas' Method at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, on view through September 1, 2013.
Schwabsky writes that the show "focuses on [Degas'] aesthetic premises and representational strategies as they cut across medium, motif and the artist’s career... And yet, allergic as he was to the idea of method, of devising a formula and then unfailingly applying it, Degas was nothing if not methodical, working with great diligence and intense application. He disavowed impulse and extemporization as much as he did method. 'I assure you,' he liked to say, 'no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament…I know nothing.' The key is repetition: 'It is necessary to execute a motif ten times, a hundred times. Nothing in art must look accidental.' "
Schwabsky also finds a contemporary in the work of Merlin James: "Like Degas, [James] emphasizes his attachment to tradition... And yet for all his supposed traditionalism, James takes no aspect of painting for granted."
Mark Stone reflects on the ever-present possibility to see and form anew through the act of painting.
Stone points to the self contained worlds in a late work by Picasso and a pastel by Degas. In the Degas, he writes, "everything feels close, contained. The surfaces are filled with crosshatches and heavy pastels. The beautiful bathers emerge through the lens and then find a thicker reality in Degas’ line, the flesh formed with each stroke of color, the line tracing the reality in front of us. These visions are not mine, and I’m not supposed to fill in the blanks, there are none to choose. I am supposed to look, to see something that’s not me. I am there with Degas, experiencing an entropic moment, understanding that this drawing is both image and being at once, a hybrid of visual existence."
Naves writes "As a study in contrasts, the Met exhibition has its uses. Degas' exercises in self-portraiture are heady and pitiless, their rigor is risky, pointed and sure. Psychological insight wasn’t alien to Degas' vision, but neither was it a driving force. Rembrandt, on the other hand, couldn’t make a mark without embodying a distinctive and inquisitive generosity of spirit."
Gregory Scheckler reviews the exhibition Rembrandt and Degas: Two Young Artists at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, on view through February 5, 2012.
Scheckler writes: "This new show reveals a young Degas at a time of transition between traditions (French Academic versus Dutch Realist), revealing much about how Degas navigated the two." He continues: "The show is worth a visit if for no other reason than to see four small self-portrait paintings that are astonishingly beautiful, precise, reserved in their use of color and radical in their use of light."
Painter Altoon Sultan blogs her thoughts a wide range of portraits seen on her recent trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, beginning with Fayum funerary portraits and ending with Degas' Portrait of the Artist Tissot. Musing on "Netherlandish" portrait painters she writes: "[they] have magic in their art. How they are able to paint with such precision and so much realism every fold of skin and cloth, and still have an essence of living being emerge is a mystery..."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.