On a bleak January evening, nearly one year past, a modern art survey course brought me to the 19th century gallery of the Getty’s West Pavilion for the very first time. Strolling the parquet floors I made my selection from the works that punctuated the formal walls of forest green. Here are sketches made on that occasion (alongside the originals), as well as an excerpt from the final paper they accompanied.
“It is from contrasts that Degas draws an art, translating the society of the late nineteenth century onto paper and canvas. His eye discerns the falsity and irony behind the delicate splendor of Parisian life, with its glittering opera halls, flurried movement, and colorful ballets. His pieces juxtapose ephemeral beauty and grotesque reality; beside the grandeur of flickering stage light and dancers on point are shadowy faces and strained expressions. Degas’ ability to capture these subtleties transcends medium as demonstrated by the sweeping strokes of chalk pastel in Waiting (1882), and the rich oil on canvas of The Convalescent (1872-87). Both pieces are striking examples of the melancholy hardship of the working class, characteristic of Degas’ female portraiture, yet each is distinguished by differing composition, palette and technique. A centered subject, neutral palette and dry brush taint The Convalescent with a feel of static decay, while oblique lines, aesthetic contrasts and the soft blend of pastel instill Waiting with a sense of rising action and anticipatory fatigue.”
Images of Degas' original works are courtesy the Getty Center.