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Edgar Degas: The Painter as Printmaker

February 17–April 14, 1985

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), justifiably celebrated as one of the greatest painters and draftsmen of the 19th century, was also a profoundly innovative printmaker. The artist saw his printmaking as a means of private experimentation, known during his lifetime primarily by the artists and collectors in his circle of friends. This exhibition for the first time surveys the full range of Degas's etchings and lithographs, including the numerous preparatory drawings, monotypes, and working proofs that record his constant and restless search to push printmaking to new frontiers of expressiveness. Degas's earliest prints of the 1850s emulate Rembrandt and Ingres, the great masters of chiaroscuro and line. His etchings entered a new and more contemporary phase in 1864-65 with portraits of his friend, the painter Edouard Manet. From the mid-1870s, his principal theme was women in society, particularly those who earned their living: dancers at the Paris Opéra, singers in café-concerts, actresses, laundresses, and circus performers. Later, he turned to the subject of the female nude in domestic surroundings, most notably in a series of women bathing. From 1876 through the early 1880s, Degas sought new combinations of traditional techniques to find black and white equivalents for the color and texture of his paintings. His capacity for the endless reworking of a print, and his lack of concern for attaining a "finished" image, are illustrated by the 22 states of the 1879 etching, Leaving the Bath. Late in life, the artist who had used color so brilliantly in his painting, said to a friend, "At last I shall be able to devote myself to black and white, which is my passion."


Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Hayward Gallery, London

Main Building


NationalEndowment for the Arts
Supported in Philadelphia by The Pew Memorial Trust


Ellen S. Jacobowitz

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