This month, the spotlight shines on artist Edgar Degas (1834-1917), as our very own Professor Brauer is devoting two upcoming Sunday Lectures to this Impressionist artist on October 23rd and October 30th. At the same time, Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts is kicking off its exclusive exhibition, “Degas: A New Vision”. We visited with Brauer to find out more.
WIH Reporter: What can you tell us about your upcoming lectures and the MFA exhibition?
Brauer: The confluence of events is a wonderful coincidence.The Museum of Fine Arts is the only museum in the U.S. that is exhibiting Degas’ work representing the beginning to the end of his career. Not since the 1988 retrospective Degas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has the artist’s career been so fully presented.
WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about Degas?
Brauer: When people think of Degas, they associate him with racehorses and ballet dancers. This exhibition shows a more complex multi-dimensional side of Degas through painting,drawings, sculpture, and photos. He was a very private man, and kept a lot of his paintings to himself. He was he first great artist to question why he should have any exhibitions, since, in his view, the public didn’t understand his art anyway. His success meant that he didn’t have to please anyone,and he could created art for his own edification.
WIH Reporter: What will you be concentrating on your lectures?
Brauer: Right now, I am teaching my 12-week class,”The Legacy of French Art 1850 to 1940″, and we are covering quite a bit about Degas. In the two Sunday lectures, I will be focusing on Degas even more, discussing the relationship between his paintings and photography, and the concentration on women in his work after 1870.
WIH Reporter: What was the relationship towards women in his art?
Brauer: He was the only one of the Impressionists to come to America. He visited New Orleans where he had family. When he came back to France, he began to focus on certain types of women: shop girls, laundresses, ballet dancers – all considered nearly prostitutes as reflected in popular novels at the time.
WIH Reporter: Is there a sympathy in his art for these women?
Brauer: Actually, he looked upon them with an objective, analytical eye.
WIH Reporter: What was significant about the Impressionists in general, and Degas specifically, that set them apart from the art that had gone before?
Brauer: The Impressionists, starting in 1860, represented the first secular art in Western tradition. This art, unlike religious art, does not have a back story. It represented a new kind of freedom, as artists were liberated from the earlier, religious subjects, and could create their own narrative. In the upcoming lectures, I will be discussing what we see in the creations of Degas.
WIH Reporter: Your next class, “The Legacy of Spanish Painting, 1600-1827“, will be starting on October 18th. does this class have any relation to the classes and lectures on French artists?
Brauer: Absolutely. It was one of the reasons I decided to teach six weeks of Spanish art, because Velazquez and Goya were huge influences on the Impressionists – Manet most of all – as he lived for a while in Spain. Degas also came under this influence. WIH Reporter: What will you be teaching in the Spring? Brauer: I am really looking forward to teaching “The Legacy of Russian Art” in the Spring.