Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas

April 8, 2019 at 1:36 pm (Art, books)

Yesterday I came home from the library with two art  books that were vastly different from each other in size.

The Degas is voluminous! It weighs 5.5 pounds, and is 10.5″ x 13″, with a thickness of 1.25 inches. In contrast – and what a contrast! – The Manet book is petite in the extreme: 4.5″ x 5.75. It is maybe a quarter of an inch thick and weighs about 5 ounces.

I very nearly missed the latter, as it was wedged in between larger volumes on the shelves of new nonfiction. As soon as I pulled it out, I was enchanted. Small and almost delicate, the tiny volume was a delight. I soon noted that it contained several paintings by Manet that I hadn’t previously seen. I was particularly pleased to make the acquaintance of this one:

Le Bon Bock (A Good Glass of Beer), 1876

A number of my favorites appear as well:

Gare St. Lazare, 1872-73

The Old Musician, 1862

Both of the above paintings reside at our own National Gallery, for which I am profoundly grateful. It means I actually get to see them from time to time. To my mind, Manet more than any other painter renders nineteenth century Paris palpably real.

It may seem as though the small format of Looking At Manet would render the art reproductions less than satisfactory. Oddly enough, I do not find it so at all.

Apparently the writer Emile Zola was an ardent supporter of  Edouard Manet. His commentary on the artist and his works provides the main text for this book.

Right from the beginning, you know where Zola is coming from:

At the age of seventeen, on leaving college, [Manet] fell in love with painting. What a terrible love that is–parents tolerate a mistress, even two; they will close their eyes if necessary to a straying heart and senses. But the Arts! Painting for them is the Scarlet Woman, the Courtesan, always hungry for flesh, who must drink the blood of their children, who clutches them panting, to her insatiable lips. Here is Orgy unforgivable, Debauchery–the bloody spectre which appears sometimes in the midst of families and upsets the peace of the domestic hearth.

Okay, Monsieur Zola – now tell us how you really feel about the sensibilities of the French bourgeoisie!

Looking at Manet is as good an example as I’ve seen recently of a book that should always exist in physical space. I not only enjoy reading it in this form, but also just handling it.  I may have to buy it. And there are others like it, in a series called Lives of the Artists, from Getty Publications.

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The Degas volume, by Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge, is a huge doorstop of a book filled with fascinating facts and wonderful reproductions. I obtained it through interlibrary loan because there was a still photo in it that I wanted to see. This photo would serve as confirmation that the bearded gentleman seen in this film clip is in fact Edgar Degas:

Here is the photo:

(This linkage was pointed out in a comment on YouTube.)

The video clip comes from a documentary called Ceux de Chez Nous made by by Sasha Guitry in 1914-15. This film also contains footage of Renoir painting and Claude Monet conversing with an unidentified man.

By 1915, Degas was nearly blind. It’s hard to reconcile the image in this video with the vigorous artist as he appears in earlier self-portraits, such as this one, from 1863 . For more, see this poignant article on the Open Culture site.

Edgar Degas died in 1917 at the age of 83.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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