Edgar Degas (19 July 1834 – 27 September 1917) is regarded as one of the greatest founder of impressionism. Degas rejected the term and preferred to be called a realist. He was an expert “realist” and painted many subjects through his life but over 50% of his work was focused on the subject of ballet dancers. Supposedly the paintings of dancers showed his mastery in depicting movement. His portraits are notable for their psychological complexity and depiction of human isolation.
“Early in his career, he wanted to be a history painter, a calling for which he was well prepared by his rigorous academic training and close study of classic art. In his early thirties, he changed course, and by bringing the traditional methods of a history painter to bear on contemporary subject matter, he became a classical painter of modern life.” –Wikipedia
I have been exposed to Degas years ago and thought he was pretty good but never really looked at it. I was exposed to almost every artist that had an impact on the world thanks to having an adopted father who taught art, constantly learned art and in retirement became a major contributor to the art world. A So, Degas kind of fell into the back of my head and I focused on modern artist I loved like Francis Bacon, Joe Coleman, Robert Crumb and a bunch of other outsider art.
In 2003 I landed a job at the Philadelphia Museum Art working in the museum specialty store at the end of the special Edgar Degas exhibit that was in town for 3 months or so. I was over exposed with his work. At first I wasn’t that into Degas’ paintings. Although I love looking at ballet dancers it seemed boring at first. I did my research. I read what I could about Degas at the museum, at home, and online. He seemed a little more interesting. I started looking at the paintings and this may or may not sound weird depending how much you know me, but I was attracted to the girls in his paintings. Even though Degas had the habit of blurring their faces or even making them ugly, they were painted with obvious sex on mind. The dancer’s bodies were painted with delicacy and strong sexuality. The younger the girl painted this way the more I kept thinking “pervert”.
“Degas, who believed that “the artist must live alone, and his private life must remain unknown”, lived an outwardly uneventful life. In company he was known for his wit, which could often be cruel. He was characterized as an “old curmudgeon” by the novelist George Moore, and he deliberately cultivated his reputation as a misanthropic bachelor.” Wikipedia
Degas liked to hide out. It is common for many artists to have eccentric personalities of all types but there seems something interesting about Degas making it a rule to keep his “private life unknown” and being a “misanthropic bachelor” makes him seem creepy to me. A pervert.
I kept my observations and opinions to myself for a while. I brought it up to a co-worker or 2 and they thought the same thing. It became a topic of discussion for almost every employee after a while. Even the security guards were talking about it. We never let this on to customers or visitors.
One of Degas’ well-known paintings hangs on the walls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art called the Interior also known as The Rape. It depicts a tense confrontation by lamplight between a man and a partially undressed woman. It seems like something uncomfortable or bad just went down. The very young woman or girl looks violated, ashamed and sad. It looks like she has been packing luggage but didn’t finish for whatever reason The older man stands against the wall looking domineering and confident in ever move he made or is getting ready to make. It’s an uncomfortable painting that even I have trouble looking at.
I don’t judge Edgar Degas for whatever goes on in his head and expressives through art. I hope that’s where it ended. I’ve heard many artist proclaim that if they didn’t have their art they would be killers, criminals, rapists, etc. I even know of a case where a convicted murderer discovered art in prison and upon release he became a full time artist. Despite the fact that he is indirectly making money off of his crimes, he has no desire or motivation to kill again because of art. Back to Degas.
I guess it really doesn’t matter to me if Degas is a pervert or not in real life. I do get weird feelings from some of his paintings but it is art. He has influenced many other impressionists and even indirectly has influenced me (with his style and passion not his perverted intent).
If you don’t know Edgar Degas look him up and see for yourself. It might just be me and few hundred other perverts that agree he is a pervert. What’s obvious to me isn’t always obvious to others.
The most important thing about art is reaction. Whether it’s a good or bad reaction it is a good thing. It’s when people feel indifference to art that it looses its value.
Degas was great artist despite all controversy. His work does invoke emotions.