For those interested in the life and works of Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas (1834-1917) a trip to the Denver Art Museum is highly recommended. One of the most influential artists of all time, this exhibit is the only American venue for Degas: A Passion for Perfection, an exhibition which presents the French artist’s work from 1855 to 1906. The influences and themes of the artist’s work are well presented.
The exhibition – Feb 11- May 20, 2018 - is a collaborative effort between the Denver Art Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. Their collection is the most extensive in the United Kingdom and includes the various media in which Degas worked. More than one hundred works are represented in the Denver exhibit, including paintings, drawings, pastels, etchings, monotypes and sculptures in bronze. In addition, works by J.A. D. Ingress, Eugene Delacroix and Paul Cezanne are on view, which enriches our understanding of the influences on the artist’s prolific career.
Degas was a contradictory figure according to Timothy J. Stranding, a curator at the Denver Art Museum. The artist was artistically radical but politically conservative. Although trained academically, Degas was also self-taught. Indeed, he spent much of his career experimenting as he restlessly sought perfection, which Degas alone defined. He exhibited with the Impressionists but refused the label. Friends considered him a curmudgeon with a sharp wit. In his private writings, Degas wrote of his loneliness yet he seemed to prefer the seclusion of his studio where he worked tirelessly on his art.
During his career, Degas produced hundreds of studies and finished works depicting ballet dancers, according to Stranding. The artist was captivated by the spectacle of the performance as well as the moments backstage as the dancers prepared. Stranding describes these works as contradictory like Degas. For these works depict: beauty and pain, grace and vulgarity, playfulness and discipline. Above all, Degas perfectly captures the emotions and feelings expressed in music and dance.
The other themes found in the artist’s work – horse racing, café concerts, and streets scenes – are included in the exhibition. Visitors will easily see how Degas’ commitment and experimentation allowed him to present modern subject matter through sharp and precise lighting.
The Denver Art Museum is a treat to visit. Before entering, take a few minutes to enjoy the “Big Sweep”, a sculpture created by Cossje van Bruggen and the Claes Oldenburg. In notes on the Internet, the artists said that the stainless steel and aluminum structure, which is more than thirty feet tall, was in part prompted by thoughts about the dustbin of history, a topic often mentioned today.