Edgar Degas, the impressionist painter, superb artist and master of movement and emotion, was also a sculptor. A sculptor behind closed doors that only unveiled one piece, thereby keeping all his other delightful scupltures to himself. The IVAM (the Valencian Institute of Modern Art) exhibition covers the complete sculptural works of Degas, therefore becoming the purest demonstration of art of this shy and retiring genius.
Born in Paris in 1834, Edgar Degas was trained in historical painting, which he continued to practice until he changed his style upon reaching his thirties. Despite being considered one of the most important impressionist artists, Degas defined himself as a realist. Having been brought up in an upper class family, it wasn’t until 1873 when, plagued by his brothers debt problems, Degas started an extraordinarily prolific pictoral period. The paintings he produced paid the bills but the sculptures were kept as small, personal treasures.
By way of his sculptures, Degas recreated subjects which he had addressed in painting form such as ballerinas, portraits and horses, alternating between still life and movement. His only exhibited sculptural work, the “Little Dancer of Fourteen Years”, generated controversy after he dressed the ballerina in real clothes and added human hair to her head. By voluntarily not circulating his works, the impressionist sculptural movement was averted and the genre was therefore represented by the works of Auguste Rodin.
The IVAM has recovered 74 pieces by Degas which have been reproduced in bronze in order to conserve them because the original materials (wax and clay) wouldn’t have stood the test of time. The recognition of Degas’s sculptures has perhaps arrived a little too late, but it has indeed arrived: two years ago “Little Dancer of Fourteen Years” was sold for €14.6 million. If Degas had been aware of the future value of his works perhaps he would have been more generous with his sculptures, but this could have greatly encroached upon the artistic credibility of the ingenious artist’s most personal piece of work.
The sculptures of Edgar Degas are being displayed in the IVAM until the 17th of April.