Modern Art: Being a Contribution to a New System of Aesthetics - Vol. 1

By Julius Meier-Graefe; Florence Simmonds et al. | Go to book overview

DEGAS AND HIS CIRCLE

EDGAR DEGAS

Hatred in a holy thing.-- ZOLA.

ONE of the cheering elements in an historical survey of art is the study of its regular and invariable developments. It is deeper and more encouraging than the greatest epic poet could conceive it, simple and logical, but with that simplicity which remains a mystery--the simplicity of such a fact as that two human beings can produce a third.

The age needed an art; to what end it knew not, having already a large inheritance from other ages. It created one, found its exponents, and these produced just what was needed for a development, of which they had no notion. They worked as if in conclave, each in his little cell with a couple of assistants; and afterwards, when each had finished his work, it was exactly what was needed to complete the rest.

Manet set forth the general programme: the new art was to be decoration pure and simple; Cézanne exhibited the texture of the stuff; Renoir painted exquisite fragments for it, the feminine element that must be in all real painting Degas drew for it.

All were fragmentary, Manet among the rest; he conjures up but a suggestion of the great billowy curtain, on which the Déjeûner sur l'Herbe was to be set; but this was just what we wanted to see. His Olympia has as much of Titian as we can have to-day without deliberate imitation of Titian. His yearnings are ours. Degas does not show the great enterprise in outline, but he gives European art an anatomy, a medium, that has to do with the skeleton of art. And this medium too is ours.

Degas is a modern and yet an ancient. In his inmost soul, I believe he despises modern painting. When young painters bring their pictures to him, he passes his hand over them, and only if he finds the surface quite smooth will he look at the bearer. He divines something of the evanescence of painting in relief, and would never practise it. Ingres knew the truth, a pupil of Ingres handed it on to him. The painter must paint in such a manner, that nothing should run in from outside, but that all should come from within, that all the glowing radiance should be overlaid with a firm skin. He tried it once upon a time; and not only long ago, when Lamothe was still alive. Six years ago he had a large oil picture in his studio, ballet-dancers in a park-scene, which he had begun some six years before; it is probably still unfinished. The old finish is no longer to be accomplished; it does not harmonise with our modern nerves, our desires, our passionate delight in colour, our pleasure in the throb and quiver of life. He himself could not resist; the colour-demon raged in him too, and his hand twitched each time he

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Modern Art: Being a Contribution to a New System of Aesthetics - Vol. 1
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Illustrations in Text x
  • Book I the Struggle for Painting xi
  • The Mediums of Art, Past and Present 1
  • Traditions 12
  • The Rise of Painting 15
  • The First Florescence of Painting 27
  • The Empire 33
  • Ingres 36
  • German Art 40
  • England's Contribution 45
  • From Delacroix to Courbet 144
  • Book II the Pillars of Modern Painting 217
  • Gustave Courbet 219
  • Manet and His Circle 257
  • Cézanne and His Circle 266
  • Degas and His Circle 277
  • Renoir and His Circle 287
  • Book III Colour and Composition 299
  • I. Colour *
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