EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
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EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)


EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
signed 'Degas' (lower right)
pastel over monotype on paper
11 3/4 x 15 7/8 in. (30 x 40.3 cm.)
Executed circa 1890-1893
Durand-Ruel, Paris, by whom acquired from the artist on 2 June 1893.
Tadamasa Hayashi, Paris, by whom acquired from the above on 23 March 1896.
M. Knoedler & Co., New York.
John Quinn, New York.
Arthur B. Davies, New York.
Katherine D. Murdoch, New York.
Sam Salz, New York; sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 31 March 1949, lot 184.
J. Rousset, New York, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Marjorie S. Fisher, Palm Beach, by whom acquired by 1985; sale, Sotheby's, New York, 15 November 2016, lot 385.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
T. Hayashi, Catalogue of the Collection of Tadamasa Hayashi, Tokyo, 1908, p. 2 (illustrated).
P. Brame & T. Reff, Degas et son œuvre, A Supplement, New York & London, 1984, no. 136, p. 148 (illustrated p. 149).
Exh. cat., Edgar Degas, Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1988, p. 253.
M.K. Meller, 'Exercises in and around Degas's classrooms: Part III' in Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXXV, no. 1084, London, July 1993, p. 460 (illustrated).
R. Kendall, Degas Landscapes, New Haven & London, 1993, no. 4, p. 275 (illustrated fig. 197, p. 218).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, 25 paysages de Degas, November 1892.
Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, Degas: A Passion for Perfection, October 2017 - January 2018, no. 86, p. 247 (illustrated fig. 144, pp. 134-135).
Paris, Musée d'Orsay, Degas à l'Opéra, September 2019 - January 2020, no. 307, p. 311 (illustrated p. 292).

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Imogen Kerr
Imogen Kerr Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

The present work, made by Edgar Degas in 1890, is striking for two reasons. Firstly, as an artist perhaps best known for his figurative art, depictions of the human body in movement - ballet dancers and circus performers for example - Degas here shows us a landscape, remarkable for the heft of its motionless inaction. We see verdant hills in the distance, foregrounded by less finished rocky outcrops and perhaps a river in the background while a cloudy sky is confined to the top left corner, but the setting remains nameless – the bald ‘countryside’ of the title Paysage suggests that the artist was less interested here in capturing a sense of place than he was in form, light, colour and mood to the point that the finished work verges on the abstract, anticipating the iconoclastic modern art movement that was to emerge later, most fully in the early twentieth century.

Secondly, the medium used to make the image was similarly radical. Although Degas had experimented with monotypes as early as the mid-1870s, drawing directly onto a metal plate and passing it through a press to produce a single print on paper, his work in the 90s, as this fine example demonstrates, conveys a new sense of freedom with the method, a mature confidence in his restless ability to take mark-making in new, ground-breaking directions in the service of his art. The monotype is used here as a starting point and is then enriched using pastel which is scumbled over the print beneath to create a controlled sense of chromatic immediacy. This imagistic technique managed to say something new not just about the quiddity of nature but about the inventiveness that the artist felt free to indulge in to express it. Degas’ range of countryside monotypes such as Paysage became deeply influential on later abstract artists, and a work such as After Degas (1990) by Howard Hodgkin for example, clearly pays homage to Degas’ scenes, just as Degas himself was influenced by the imaginative expressiveness and experimentalism of William Turner’s evanescent compositions before him.

The artist notoriously mocked the Impressionists for painting en plein air, and although we know that the present work and others of the period were inspired by travels through Burgundy in 1890 with fellow painter, sculptor and protégé Albert Bartholomé, it is certain the work was made in the studio; as ever, the artist draws on memory and imagination to create his most visionary and contemplative work. The apparent unrestraint it conveys is very carefully managed. As Carol Armstrong quotes from Degas:

I assure you that no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing. (Armstrong, 1991)

Despite Paysage’s movement towards abstraction, some critics also perceive in it a link in the mind of the artist between the human form and the topographic folds and curves in the land that nature sometimes contrives to produce. Such anthropomorphism may have influenced early collectors such as Tadamasa Hayashi, the notable art dealer largely responsible for the introduction of Japanese woodblock art into Europe (begetting a craze for it that influenced Van Gogh, Gaugin, Les Nabis and others), who is listed as one of the work’s first owners. It later moved to New York and was bought by the artist and organiser of the Armory Show (the 1913 exhibition that propelled Modern Art into the USA) Arthur B. Davies.

Armstrong, C. (1991). Odd Man Out: Readings of the Work and Reputation of Edgar Degas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 22.

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