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Manet/Degas | 4Columns

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Aruna D’Sousa

Who was more bearable? A new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art depicts the dueling aims of two modernist painters.

Manet/Degas, installation view. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Anna-Marie Kellen.

Manet/DegasThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, co-curated by Stefan Wolohojian and Ashley Dunn, in collaboration with Laurence de Kaes, Isolde Prudermacher, and Stefan Guegan; 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York City, until January July 2024

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Art history loves rivalries: Leonardo and Michelangelo, Ingres and Delacroix, Gauguin and Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso, Pollock and de Kooning. and Manet and Degas, an odd couple of the late 19th century, madmen whose contrasting styles and personalities came to represent French modernism’s internal contradictions at the moment of its emergence.

Edouard Manet Olympia, 1863–65. Oil on canvas, 51 3/8 x 75 3/16 inches. © RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt / Art Resources.

On the one hand, there is Edouard Manet, a man of the haute bourgeoisie who seemed to perfectly embody Charles Baudelaire’s definition of a “painter of modern life.” A flâneur who moved effortlessly through the recently renovated Paris, with its wide boulevards and open spaces. Cafés fostered a new visual relationship with the city and were organized around the enjoyment of class privilege. And on the other side, there is Edgar Degas, who had an uneasy relationship with his poor aristocratic heritage. He seemed to be advocating distancing himself from the modern world, but it was precisely because he developed a sharp eye for the flaws of modern society, and perhaps… of—A painter who depicts modern alienation.

edgar degas, Monsieur and Madame Edouard Manet, 1868–69. Oil on canvas, 25 9/16 x 27 15/16 inches.Provided by: Kitakyushu City Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s blockbuster exhibition combining the two is simply titled Manet/Degas. But the minimalist slash mark plays a lot of roles here.Manet and Degas, Manet or Degas, Manet per Degas: Over 160 paintings and works on paper, including Manet’s infamous courtesan painting Olympia— exhibited for the first time in the United States — we are asked to look at the one thoroughly and the other in contrast.

Manet/Degas, installation view. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Anna-Marie Kellen. Photo left: Edouard Manet, Maximilian’s execution, about 1867-1868. Oil painting on canvas.

What might have simply been an indulgence in art historians’ favorite game of “compare and contrast,” or what might have just been an opportunity to display lots of eye candy (and trust me, there’s plenty of that too) ) is strangely convincing. If only because it highlights the impartiality of the relationship. Degas painted Manet, who was two years his senior, many times throughout his career, including with his wife Suzanne (Monsieur and Madame Edouard Manet, 1868–69), this composition infuriated Manet so much that he cut off one side of it and had Degas remount it on a raw canvas. After Manet died at the age of his 51st year, Degas devoted himself to strengthening Manet’s legacy and reconstructing its fragments. Maximilian’s execution The work, circa 1867-1868 (Manet’s most overtly political painting and one of his largest paintings, which his son-in-law cut up and sold for parts), will help raise money and Olympia A significant cache of his work has been amassed, with the possibility of entry into France’s national collections.

edgar degas, Edouard Manet sits and holds up his hat, about 1868. Graphite and black chalk, 13 1/16 x 9 1/16 inches. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It’s easy to see why Degas found his rival so appealing. In his depictions of Degas, Manet embodies a kind of natural peace, such as when he unconsciously stretches out while listening to Suzanne play the piano. Monsieur and Madame Edouard Manet Or the carefree elegance of his poses in Degas’s delicate pencil drawings and etchings, which capture the elegance of Manet’s clothes, even the way his trousers were torn there, as if the entirety of Manet’s personality. It’s as if all this is summed up in the precision of the tailoring. .

On the other hand, Manet never painted Degas.

Manet/Degas, installation view. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Anna-Marie Kellen. Photos, left to right: Edouard Manet; Research for Dejeunet sur l’herbe, Approximately 1863-1868. fishingabout 1862-1863.

From the moment Manet began to present his work in public, following in the footsteps of Gustave Courbet, he replaced Courbet’s rustic worker’s bravery with an urbane, irreverent coolness. He was a painter and a firebrand determined to mess things up. Paris.Manet placed a naked woman and a clothed man together in the open air. Dejeunet sur l’herbe And he allowed it to be exhibited at the Salon des Refusées – imagine being willing to have your work exhibited among the rejected works and subject to public scorn and ridicule. (This painting is represented here by his mid-1860s oil sketch, borrowed from Courtauld.) He was unafraid of pastiche and drew freely from Titian ( Olympia), Raphael (at dejeunet), Rubens (in fishing, approximately 1862-1863), Velázquez (in his numerous single-figure works of the 1860s) used a variety of thematic and stylistic techniques, including the use of loose, flat brushstrokes and the rejection of conventional techniques of modeling form. Both created a decidedly modern image. Degas, on the other hand, remained faithful to his academic method and produced works that were enigmatic and classically expressed. medieval war landscape (c. 1865), historical paintings with no clear connection to history, and Semiramis Building Babylon (1861) was born out of Piero della Francesca, his teacher Ingres, and his interest in modern opera.

Manet/Degas, installation view. Provided by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Anna-Marie Kellen. Left side of the photo: Edgar Degas, medieval war landscape, about 1865. Oil painting on paper pasted on canvas.

But as the show shows, the dichotomy commonly mapped to this artistic rivalry rarely lasts long. Manet, despite his rebelliousness, never stopped trying to exhibit at the official French salons, whereas Degas rejected such academic recognition and became the first French avant-garde. Founding member of the art form Impressionism. Although Manet was strictly a painter, Degas was fascinated by other mediums, such as the rapidly emerging technique of photography. Although the exhibition includes many of Degas’ own photographs, it is in the artist’s horse racing that you can really see the influence of Degas’ curiosity and understanding of the conceptual meaning of looking through the lens of a camera. each treatment.On the other hand, Manet Boulogne Bois lace (1872) Degas employs the old-fashioned understanding of how horses run with all their legs extended simultaneously, as if a cow were jumping over the moon. false start (c. 1869-1872), Racehorse in front of the stand (1866–68), and racetrack, amateur jockey (1876–87) provides a much more convincing depiction and so-called “snapshot” of the horse’s capricious movements. Avant la Letter” composition with strange cropping and framing.

Edouard Manet plum brandy, about 1877. Oil on canvas, 29 x 19 3/4 inches. Provided by the Washington National Museum of Art.

The contrasting temperaments of the artists are perfectly evident in the hanging of Manet’s works side by side. plum brandy (c. 1877) and Degas’s At the cafe (people drinking absinthe) (1875–76). The former is seated on a red chaise lounge, slouched, cigarette in hand, the titular plum brandy (containing whole plums!) in front of her, and a dreamy, perhaps exhausted look on her face. It depicts a pretty working-class girl. her her her. The marble table extends all the way to the foreground, so we could have been seated just on opposite sides. She’s a type, a regular at modern cafes, and one of the many charming characters a flâneur might meet in a day. Thanks to Manet, we can step into his shoes and secretly admire her joyful exuberance. Degas, by contrast, has all the angles and barriers. The couple, posed by painter Marcelin Desboutin and actress Hélène André, appears to be trapped at the table in front of them, distanced and crushed by the empty space in the middle ground of the painting. It is. They were in the corner with their drinks, not looking at us, but more importantly, not looking at each other, caught in a depressing silence. Here, the cafe is not a place to stare at adorable faces, but a simulacrum of alienated sociability.

edgar degas, At the cafe (people drinking absinthe), 1875-1876. Oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 26 15/16 inches. © RMN-Grand Palais / Adrien Didierjean / Art Resource.

I went to the show with an old friend from graduate school. At the end of the tour, we jokingly asked, “So, who won?” I was surprised that my answer this time was Degas, given that I have long admired both Manet’s pictorial talent and the politics implicit in his work. Everything that Degas seems to admire most in his opponent – his self-confidence, confidence in both his brushstrokes and his attitude towards the world, his embodiment of coolness – somehow irritates me today. Let me do it. Instead, I saw Degas’s acerbic eye, his ability to see the darkness beneath what is sold to us as pleasure, his alienation from the world, his inability to live in the past and fight the present. I hope. It feels more appropriate for our current apocalyptic situation.

Aruna D’Sousa Writer and critic based in New York. she, new york times and 4 rowsI am the author of Whitewalling: Art, Race, and Protest in Three Acts (Badlands Unlimited, 2018). She is currently working on a new book. 7 photos for a new world” A collection of essays.

Who was more bearable? A new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art depicts the dueling aims of two modernist painters.

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