Did you know of the connection between Degas and AHA? In celebration of the RA Exhibition of Degas to open on Saturday 17th September, here are some thoughts on Degas.

“I assure you that no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, and temperament.” (Edgar Degas)

Degas’s father was Italian and in 1856 (aged 22) he went to live in Naples and lived in the same building where AHA gap year students stay. It’s right by the Gesu, you may remember, the one with the amazing diamante facade.

Rainy day outside Il Gesu

I am not sure why he was in Paris in the first place, but perhaps the well reviewed exhibition at the RA will explain. Visit: http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/degas/about-the-exhibition/

Portrait of Hilaire De Gas, 1857. The Louvre

Degas stayed with his aunt and family in Naples where he made the first studies of his early masterpiece, The Bellelli Family.

The Bellelli Family: 1858-1867

He painted these – curiously un- Degas like at first sight.

Having returned to Paris in 1859, he went back to Naples in 1860, where he painted  the history painting Jeunes filles spartiates provoquant des garçons à la lutte (The National Gallery, London; Young Spartans Exercising) c. 1860-62. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/hilaire-germain-edgar-degas-young-spartans-exercising

Young Spartans Exercising, 1860

He also went to Florence.   Here are some visual thoughts…

“In painting you must give the idea of the true by means of the false.” (Degas)

Degas captures anatomical beauty of the Ballet dancers just as Michelangelo seems to do with his 1501 David. Despite the lack of Renaissance obsession with perfect form and proportion, (where David’s head and upper body are distinctly out of proportion), Michelangelo’s David is an “incredible feat of technical skill, the scale is deliberate.” (The Galleria dell’ Academia, Florence)

The feminine stance or contrapposto, of both Michelangelo and Donatello’s David sculptures relate to the feminine positioning of Degas’ dancer. Degas captures the specific, feminine movements of the dancer, yet also incorporates some anatomical defects. His Little Dancer Aged Fouteen is an example of his love of the modern form with her strong legs and thin shoulders.

One more thing, have a look at this wonderful drawing at the Fitzwilliam (http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/opacdirect/6282.html)

Study of Donatello’s Bronze David, c.1858, Degas

“Everyone has talent at twenty-five. The difficulty is to have it at fifty.” (Degas)

Don’t know where this gets us, but he was on a gap year too, it seems.




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