Manet / Degas
Manet / Degas
MANET / DEGAS
at the Musée d'Orsay Paris
Exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay
until July 23, 2023
This exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay gives us a chance to discover (or rediscover) Éduard Manet and Edgar Degas through their similarities and their differences. Featuring important works of art produced by both artists, this is an exhibition you won’t want to miss.
The exhibition has been curated in partnership with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where you’ll be able to catch it between September 2023 and January 2024.
Manet / Degas
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Manet and Degas – compare and contrast! This exhibition presents the similarities but also the differences between the two artists. And that reflects their relationship as friends and rivals.
These two key figures in the New Painting of the 1860s and 1880s have plenty in common, starting with their subjects and style. But they also exhibited their work in the same places and moved in the same circles, sharing art dealers and collectors for starters.
Left: Edgar Degas, Repasseuses, 1884-1886, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Right: Edgar Degas, Woman Ironing (Silhouette), 1873, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
MANET / DEGAS
And yet there was still plenty setting them apart from one another. This exhibition reveals all.
Degas’ painting of Manet with his wife sitting at a piano reveals a great deal about the complex relationship between the two artists. You see, Suzanne’s face is missing, having been cut off by Manet. He couldn’t bear the deformation of his wife’s face. Degas took the painting back and angrily returned a still life gifted to him by Manet. He had attached a strip of blank canvas to his painting with the intention of recreating the portrait of Suzanne, but he never got round to it.
The exhibition compares and contrasts the artists in 13 sections, organised thematically as well as chronologically.
EARLY DAYS AND
Manet and Degas were born in Paris just two years apart (in 1832 and 1834). Both were the eldest sons of well-off bourgeois families. Manet’s father was a senior official at the French Ministry of Justice and his mother was the daughter of a diplomat and the god-daughter of the King of Sweden.
Degas’ family, meanwhile, worked in business and finance.
Both artists actually started to study law but quit to follow their artistic calling.
Manet and Degas both went on to study under established painters.
Manet and Degas first met at the Louvre in the early 1860s, where they were both copying the same Velázquez painting. At least, that’s how the story goes… At this exhibition, their copies are presented beautifully side by side.
Portraits were all the rage during the artists’ lifetime, so they both produced plenty of them in their early days as painters. They both preferred to call upon friends and family to pose for their pictures.
While Manet tended to make his models look majestic in vivid colours, Degas favoured classic poses and a more muted palette for his subjects.
Manet and Degas had an interesting relationship with impressionism to say the least! To start with, Manet distanced himself from the new art movement, even though his painting was impressionist through and through. And Degas expressed his disdain for the label, even though he was one of the group’s founders.
Both artists took to the new trend of painting outdoors relatively quickly – no doubt attracted by the commercial success of lake and bathing scenes in London and Paris.
Both Manet and Degas had close ties to the city they were from – Paris. Their portrayal of Parisians in their natural habitat resulted in a close dialogue between the two artists.
Manet and Degas painted women from different social classes as a reflection of modern life.
I really loved seeing the famous Degas painting of absinthe drinkers on display alongside two similar paintings of women in a café by Manet.
Left: Édouard Manet, The Plum (Pruna), 1878, National Gallery of Art, Washington
Center: Edgar Degas, Dans un café (l’Absinthe), 1875-1876, Musée d’Orsay
Right: Édouard Manet, La Serveuse de bocks, 1878 – 1879, Musée d’Orsay
MAN AND WOMAN
Manet’s contemporaries were sure that he felt more comfortable when surrounded by women. He was known for his seductive ways, after all.
Degas, meanwhile, was much more reserved and kept his private life to himself. He was the first to admit that he was never one for parties and celebrations.
These different temperaments come across in some of their paintings, with Manet being confident in his portrayal of women and the relationships between men and women almost always coming across as troubled in Degas’ works.
THE MANET COLLECTOR
Degas was deeply affected by the premature death of Manet in 1883. He is quoted as saying “He was greater than we thought” at his friend’s funeral. It was almost as if Degas only really started to appreciate Manet after his death.
He went on to collect almost 80 of his works and had plans to open a museum where he could put them on display.
Persistent beyond belief, he managed to acquire and reassemble multiple fragments of the Manet painting called ‘The Execution of Maximilian’. That work of art is on display right at the end of the exhibition, representing the final stage in the relationship between these two artists. From similar beginnings to close dialogue and rivalry to respect and admiration.
This is a rare and special chance to learn about both artists. As you walk through the exhibition, you’ll be convinced you prefer one artist over the other, only to change your mind when you move to the next section. Luckily, we don’t have to choose between them, and we can just admire the beautiful works of art they both produced.
It’s a shame that the rooms are a bit on the small side because there’s not really enough space to stand back and properly compare the work of both artists side by side when there’s a crowd.
Be sure to go if you’re in Paris before July 23, 2023!
Official website of the Musée d’Orsay (FRZ/EN): www.musee-orsay.fr/fr
Text and image rights: © Céline Mülich, 2023
With the support of Jacqueline Glarner.