The Louvre preempts a drawing by Degas

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1/4/23 - Acquisition - Paris, Musée du Louvre - Was Degas an impressionist painter? An exhibition at the Musée de Giverny asked the question in 2015 (see article). For not only did he not paint en plein air, but he was trained in the classical tradition, practising drawing and studying the great masters. He was admitted as a copyist to the Louvre in 1853, frequented the Cabinet des estampes of the Bibliothèque nationale to observe the works of Dürer, Mantegna, Goya and Rembrandt, and finally abandoned his law studies in 1855 to enrol at the Beaux-Arts and follow the teaching of Louis Lamothe. He also observed the painters and sculptors of the past during his trip to Italy between 1856 and 1861.

1. Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Dying Slave after Michelangelo
Black pencil - 26.7 x 20.2 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo: Ader
See the image in its page

It was during a copying session at the Louvre in 1862 that he met Édouard Manet. The two painters are currently facing each other at the Musée d’Orsay. As for the Louvre, it preempted in the Talabardon & Gautier sale (see news item 19/3/23) a drawing of Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, which bears witness to Edgar Degas’s research into how to translate the movement of the body (ill. 1). The work joins another more sketchy sheet of the two slaves (ill. 2) in the Louvre, along with the drawings from Orsay. Although the artist’s date of birth obviously links him to the latter museum, this acquisition was made for the collection of works related to the history of the Louvre.

2. Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Copy after Michelangelo’s Slaves
Graphite pencil - 24.5 x 15.6 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo: RMN-GP/T. Le Mage
See the image in its page

This news item is also an opportunity to mention an acquisition by the Petit Palais that we had not mentioned, of another sheet by Edgar Degas. In 2020, Gerhard Fries offered the Petit Palais a copy of Eugène Delacroix’s painting Combat of the Giaour and the Pasha (ill. 3 and 4).

3. Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Study after Delacroix’s Le Combat du Giaour et du Pacha, ca. 1860
Graphite pencil - 23 x 18 cm,
Paris, Petit Palais
Photo: Petit Palais
See the image in its page
4. Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
The Fight of the Giaour and the Pasha, 1835,
Oil on canvas - 73 x 61 cm
Paris, Petit Palais
Photo: Petit Palais
See the image in its page

"I had formed the idea of Degas as a character reduced to the rigour of a hard drawing, a Spartan, a Stoic, an artist Jansenist " wrote Paul Valéry in his book Degas Danse, Dessin which was the starting point for an exhibition at Orsay in 2018. More recently the museum has focused on the painter’s connection with opera (see article). The exhibition emphasised the importance of memory and the study of the old masters in painting dancers whose spontaneity is only apparent. "Everything is false" Degas himself had said. They are not worked on the motif, they are the fruit of his imagination, a mixture of memories and artistic references.

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