What a great time to bring up Degas


    ... when he is in Denver! Or at least his work is at the Denver Art Museum - and I have my tickets!

    "A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people". - Degas

    I'm a sucker for a good composition - and one that is just a little different, deceptively simple or even edgy gets me every time. SO important to a successful painting.

    Interesting refined color combinations? - they can pull me across a room! So Degas' work fits the bill.

    I will show you what I mean. But first a little background...

    Self Portrait by Edgar Degas (from J. Paul Getty Museum)

    Edgar Degas (1834-1917) did not like to be called an "Impressionist", even though he was a founding member of the group in Paris. He preferred "Realist" or "Independent". Known well for his interest in ballet dancers, he eventually produced about 1,500 works on the subject. He was a versatile artist. I've seen many different mediums he used - oil paints, pastels, gouache, charcoal drawings, sculpture.

    Little Dancer by Degas

    Like I mentioned, what I truly appreciate in his 2D work is often his compositions and color sense. These Degas pieces I selected from my visits to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and the National Gallery in Washington, DC will help me explain...

    Specifically, his use of asymmetry and cropping in his compositions, I find very intriguing. Often taking on the subject from a different angle than expected, he'll use the background as a strong grounding of the composition. An underlying abstract quality in the painting forms the structure of the design. Bold but simple in a way. I like that.

    Here, an unusual angle but what a strong composition with interesting positive shapes (ballet dancer and chair) and negative shapes (the space around the dancer and chair).

    Oh, the beautiful colors here!...Choosing the redhead for the anchor of the composition with the strong vertical light and dark elements balancing the composition on the left. And that little bit of grayed blue in the upper left corner?... Cover it with your finger and you'll see how important it is to set off the color harmonies in the painting. Subtle, refined, beautiful.

    What a great angle he has placed the front figure on - continuing the shape of the curtains into the top hat, down and across his legs. Set against the bold light shape asymmetrically framing the figure looking directly at the viewer. An interesting yet simple negative shape around his head calling attention to the subject.

    The combination of patterns, soft colors and asymmetrical shapes draws me into this painting...pun intended:)...What gorgeous color harmonies! And placing the figure just off center, looking out of the frame while cropping the dress... edgy. Again, that light area behind the head is an asymmetrical negative shape around the main subject, creating captivating forms within the painting.

    Another bold use of shapes with an interesting perspective on the subjects. Quite an underlying abstract quality to the painting. Again, tantalizing color combinations.

    Look at the abstract shapes in this painting - WOW! Simple with a very bold use of light and dark. The light band created by the sheet music is BOLD and totally highlights the subjects face. Again, an interesting asymmetrical placement of the subject. Using the gray/green background at the top against the red in her hair 'sings' :) Use your finger to cover the red spot in her hair and you'll see how important that note of color is to the painting!

    Even though most of his work is figurative, I enjoy studying his pieces in hopes of translating those intriguing concepts in composition and color into my own work. So I am off to Denver to soak it all in!


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    Shirl Ireland, Artist

    Elk River Art, Lodge & Studio

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