An intriguing, marvelously illustrated, landmark survey of this popular painter's work.
We tend to think of Degas as an Impressionist who painted lovely ballerinas and lively scenes at the racetrack. As Werner Hofmann so ably demonsrates in his magisterial new study, that viewpoint fails to do justice to the issues that Degas addressed in his art and to how innovative he truly was. Focusing on people in their social environment, on their relationships and their frequent isolation, Degas embraced many kinds of personal alientaiton in his work.
His early paintings depict members of the bourgeoisie mainly in the role of observers (as in The Bellelli Family of 1859). Degas shows them indulging in leisure pursuits, as art collectors and museum visitors, or as members of the public at the theater and the races, but they are self-involved and shrouded in silence.
This aura of self-posessed calm contrasts with that of the people who inhabit the world of entertainment. Degas depicted all the stages of public performance: behind the scenes, the performances themselves, and the post-performance collapse of illusion, Hofmann investigates this in various contexts: the self-absorbed body (women at their toilette); the trained body (ballet rehearsals and dancers on stage); musicians; and the marketed body (women in brothels).
Werener Hofmann was Director of the Kunsthalle in Hamburg from 1970 to 1990. His many books include Goya and Caspar David Friedrich.