You probably know the painter Edgar Degas for his colorful canvases, his Dancers, and his scenes of Paris. But did you know that the artist was actually passionate about monochrome works? This paradox is explored by the magnificent Richelieu Library with the Degas in Black and White exhibition, running parallel to the Manet/Degas exhibition currently at the Musée d'Orsay.
An Exceptional Collection
Towards the end of his life, the painter Edgar Degas expressed in a letter dated 1906 and addressed to Georges Villa: "If I had to redo my life, I would only do black and white." This assumption becomes the starting point of the exhibition at the Richelieu Library, which explores relatively unknown works of the artist.
For Degas, black and white allowed him to experiment with new creative techniques such as etching, lithography, charcoal, and even printmaking in 1856. It also provided an opportunity to delve into the exploration of shadows, binary aspects, and the contrast of colors. The exhibition showcases an extraordinary collection, including leaflets from 1859 exhibited to the public for the first time, engravings created in collaboration with Manet in the 1860s, and prints of socialites, including Mary Cassatt and Camille Pissarro. Simply sublime!
Lastly, the exhibition reveals Degas' little-known passion for photography, a very confidential pastime for the painter. He created enigmatic compositions and played with shadows, but only shared his photos within his intimate circle. Wow!
Discovering a Magical Venue
© BNF - Jean-Christophe Ballot / Élie Ludwig / Guillaume Murat
The Mansart Gallery with its period frescoes serves as a majestic backdrop for the artist's works. It is a vast space that allows for an imposing exhibition, including videos showcasing printmaking techniques and a monumental display of the initial charcoal sketches that gave birth to his series of Bathing Women.
There couldn't be a better venue than the Richelieu Library for this exhibition, with its grand staircase worthy of a palace, its sublime gardens reminiscent of a riad, and its large oval room that evokes the libraries of Harvard or Hogwarts. It is a true haven of peace where one can relax and work alike!
For the food enthusiasts, a visit to the new annexed Rose Bakery is a must, where you can enjoy beverages and cakes in this minimalist café. Take note of the tricycle offering refreshing drinks in the outdoor courtyard!
Cool Comeback for Degas
During his lifetime, Degas was quite well-known in artistic circles, but he gained even greater fame after his death, with some of his works even being appropriated by Picasso in the 1970s. Currently, the painter is experiencing a resurgence of interest in Parisian cultural life, with several projects dedicated to him in addition to the BNF exhibition.
The Musée d'Orsay is currently presenting the immense Manet/Degas exhibition, which explores the unique relationship between the two Impressionist artists. As a bonus for audiophiles, France Inter recently aired an exciting program featuring music inspired by Edgar Degas' painting "The Dancers," available for replay here.
Degas in Black and White runs from May 31st to September 3rd, 2023, from 10 am to 6 pm, Tuesday to Saturday. Admission is €10, including access to the library museum. Also, don't miss the Manet/Degas exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay until July 23rd (quai).