Edgar Degas: Monotypes
I decided against researching Degas on-line in favour of the huge amount of books available at my local libraries. Sitting each day reading a little more, reviewing some of his works and learning about his influences has been enjoyable and a pleasant change from trolling through the internet and squinting at tiny low-resolution pictures.
The first things that struck me were the sheer passion and talent he had as an artist and the circle of other artistic friends and organisations he was surrounded by, many of which influenced his direction. It seems that, whilst his base was in Paris, he often travelled and included much of what he saw into his work, albeit not always fully recognisable and often with other elements added.
An example is during 1890 when he and a friend set out by carriage on a trip to Burgundy to visit another artist friend, Georges Jeanniot, at his home close to Dijon. On arrival Degas was anxious to get to work straight away, recording much of what he saw along the way. His friends were astounded by his remarkable memory and the manner in which he was able to recall and capture the landscape they had travelled through. Using metal plates as his base he created monotype landscapes using not only his fingers to draw into the inks but most other things he had to hand. By using both ends of brushes he could achieve either feathery areas or firmer thinner outlines from the tip. In images designed to look dark and somewhat foreboding he wiped away pigment from some areas creating lighter more airy parts indicating better weather was coming. Spattering and stippling widen the range of textures he was able to effect.
Until around 1890 he had been making his monotype prints using black or brown inks and I find these particularly appealing. The drama produced by the tonal work in these is, I feel, more striking than the effects in some of his later coloured works. He moved to using coloured thinned-down oil paints and this allowed him to achieve run lines and smudging or dispersing in areas where the print press spread the diluted paint. He could then either work back into these areas on the plate and take an echo or ghost copy or balance the intensity in the original print by forming stippled or more lightly worked sections. An excellent example of this is Landscape at Estérel (1890).
He not only concentrated on landscapes, but was also attracted by the theatre, the ballet, Parisian urban life including the café scene, tea parties, street scenes and even prostitutes. Some of his monotypes are extremely detailed and precise, such as Girl putting on her stockings (1876-77), but he also created works that were a little indefinite and gave a more generalised view of the scene, leaving the imagination to fill in the detail. An example of this is The fireside (c1880-85 according to Degas The Uncontested Master) (1876-77 according to The Metropolitan Museum of Art).
I’ve found a lot to like in his monotypes, especially the mono-colour pieces – although I wouldn’t discount his latter coloured prints either. He covers a vast range of subjects and different application skills. They can at times be flowing and imprecise, even semi-abstract, and at other times fully formed extremely detailed pieces. Even though he used oil based products he must still have worked at a good pace to complete each work and I find the quality and detail he has included astounding.
I have taken a closer look at The Jockey (c1882) and Burgundy Landscape (1890-92) and have recorded some of my observations.
Jane Kinsman with Michael Pantazzi, DEGAS: The Uncontested Master. Published by the National Gallery of Australia, ACT, Australia. 2008. ISBN 9780642541932. Pages 85-110 inc.
Columbus Museum of Art, Edgar Degas: The Last Landscapes. Published by Merrell Publishers Ltd, London & New York. 2006. ISBN 1-85894-343-4. Pages 14-31 inc.