A modern classicist Degas lived and worked in Paris. Part of the revolutionary movements in painting championed by the Impressionists, he, like them drew on contemporary life for his paintings. He exhibited in all the Impressionists exhibitions except that of 1882 but unlike their work in with Degas we find no dissolution of form. We’ve chosen two from the collection, an intimate portrait and a beautiful summery landscape.
While most famous for ballet scenes and horse racing, all his subject matter, is imbued with a startling realism. A Young Woman with a White Headdress is part of small series of works where he tackles the problems of painting white material against light with its opposing qualities of transparency and opacity. The Breton girl's white headdress is illuminated by the bright sunlight which pours in through a transparent white curtain.
It was his belief that artists were created to look at one another and he certainly did, drawing on his contemporary experiences as well as absorbing the works of earlier artists in creating a modern realism. Most probably painted in his studio, Beach Scene does not have the atmospheric 'en plein air ' feel to it one experiences in the beach scenes of his contemporaries such as Monet and Boudin. The flattened figures owe a debt to Japanese woodcuts as does the chopped frame particularly around the bag and umbrella. Masterly in execution, the format echoes that of the Ukiyo-E, although unlike the Japanese print, Degas has aligned his sequences of images. The combining influences of Oriental composition and Western imagery have been embodied in a revolutionary realism
Both paintings are currently on display in Gallery 1