Edgar Degas and Paul Valéry exchange letters at Orsay!

Edgar Degas, La repasseuse, ca 1869

The friendship between painter Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and poet Paul Valéry (1871-1945) was also an extraordinary artistic collaboration and the new exhibition at Musée d’Orsay celebrating the hundredth anniversary of Degas’s death is a little treasure of refinement and erudition with many unknown drawings and letters. A peaceful pause and marvelous contrast from most blockbuster exhibitions.

Etude de draperie d’une femme de dos, montant dans un char, vers 1860-1862 Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Thierry Le Mage

Musée d’Orsay is a grand museum for daring to put on an exhibition based on correspondance and books. “Degas Danse Dessin”, the show curated by Leila Jarbouai and Marine Kisiel, is centered around a major work by Paul Valéry with this title, published by Editions Vollard in 1937: the exhibition associates texts written by Valéry and original drawings, paintings and sculptures by Degas. It was published twenty years after the painter’s death and immediately acquired by Pablo Picasso and ballerina Ida Rubinstein.

“Femme assise sur le bord d’une baignoire et s’épongeant le cou”, between 1880 et 1895 © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Friends’ portraits, dancers, horses, the pretty show on the fifth floor is all about movement and is often based on photographies and films. The old Degas and the young Valéry (they were born 37 years apart) were introduced in 1896 by Julie Manet and Stéphane Mallarmé at Henri Rouart’s house. In 32 chapters, Valéry reflects on the art of drawing which (in his mind) eclipses painting, and develops his thoughts on the genius of Degas.

Family portrait, also called “La Famille Bellelli”, between 1858 et 1867 © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) Hervé Lewandowski

Musée d’Orsay inherited the collection left by Degas which includes 348 drawings, among which 48 pastels, a media I love more and more for its fragility. In his lifetime, Degas privileged publications of drawings by Vollard to exhibitions. He only became truly popular and famous after his death when works from his studio were sold.

Edgar Degas, “La danseuse”, sonnet, La Revue Musicale, 1er décembre 1921

Degas was trained in Italy in the 1850’s and studied the Antics. He was a keen collector of Ingres and Delacroix whom he admired enormously

The sculpture gallery is stunning with its bronze ballerinas

Dance is of course a major theme in his drawings and paintings. But also in sculpture. And the gallery devoted to his bronze ballerinas is extremely playful.

At the end of the exhibition a short film by Sacha Guitry shows Degas with white hair, walking on the street in 1915, unaware of the camera. He dies in 1917 almost unknown to the public.

Anonymous photograph, Edgard Degas ca 1860

Degas will be celebrated again in two years by the great specialist of his works, former president of Orsay and the Louvre, Henri Loyrette, and the same team of curators on the theme of “Degas and Opera”.

On Thursday, January 18 th, “A conversation with Jean Marie Rouart”, will take place at the auditorium at 7 pm and on January 30 th at 12 pm, Anne Pingeot will talk about Degas. (Until February 25, Musée d’Orsay is closed on Mondays and open late on Thursdays)

Degas, Horse walking, Bronze, Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

And if you wish to read Paul Valéry’s marvelous text “Degas Danse Dessin”, you can acquire it in Folio paperback.

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3 Comments on “Edgar Degas and Paul Valéry exchange letters at Orsay!”

  1. MN de Gary

    Merci chère Laure pour cette année riche d’informations accompagnées de tes beaux textes toujours plein de découvertes et de poésie. Marie-Noël

  2. Michael Romberg

    Dear Laure; thank you for a year of most enjoyable reading on your exquisite blog . Very best wishes for 2018 !!

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