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New Edgar Degas exhibit makes only American stop in Denver

February 8, 2018 Updated: February 8, 2018 at 10:16 am
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Degas Edgar (dit), Gas Hilaire-Germain Edgar de (1834-1917). Paris, musée d'Orsay. RF2208.

A peek through French Impressionist Edgar Degas' oeuvre and his passions are clear: opera and dance, the nude female form, racetracks and horses.

More than half of his works depict dancers, notes the website Edgar-Degas.org. He produced about 1,500 works on the subject.

"Degas: A Passion for Perfection" will open Sunday at the Denver Art Museum and run through May 20. Works by J.A.D. Ingres, Eugene Delacroix and Paul Cézanne will round out the show. Colorado is the only U.S. stop for the exhibit.

"Visitors will learn that Degas was an interesting but complex artist," said Timothy J. Standring, Gates Family Foundation curator. "The exhibit will demonstrate that Degas blurred the boundaries of painting and drawing when working on his brilliant pastels and compelling paintings."

The new exhibit will offer more than 100 works created from 1855 to 1906, such as historical paintings, drawings produced during his training years in Italy, sculptures and his largest monotype, courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art. Degas' eyesight worsened during the last three decades of his career, which might explain why he branched out into sculpture.

His interest in the female form began in the late 1850s; he saw the nudes as a way to repeat his favorite motifs in scenes of ballet and theater.

"He considered his creations as a series of operations," Standring said. "He never wanted to seek closure when working on an item, and he never wanted to let go of his works. The auction of his studio contents after his death took four days long."

Degas died in 1917 at age 83 and is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, though he preferred to be called an Independent or Realist.

For Standring, Degas' legacy isn't so much the pastel dancers or intimate nudes, but rather the way he captured scenery.

"His contribution to landscape (art) is his ability to cast scenery, such as the Normandy coast or fields in Burgundy surrounding Dijon, from memory as well as from direct observation," said Standring. "His landscapes are a mediation between what he saw and how he felt about it."

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