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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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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