In a rare opportunity for Sonoma County visitors and residents, Petaluma Arts Center presents Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle. Featuring more than 100 works, the exhibition includes 40 drawings, prints, photographs and a sculpture by Degas from his early days of making studies at the Louvre to work created late in his career. Also on view in the exhibition is work by artists in Degas’ circle of friends, acquaintances, and influence, including Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Gustave Moreau, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Degas was a brilliant artist who worked in a wide variety of media from painting, pastel and drawing, to printmaking, sculpture, and photography. However, this exhibition explores the more private side of Degas through his works on paper. Most of these, which Degas largely kept to himself for his own creative explorations, were discovered after the artist’s death in 1917. Drawings and monotypes, which are generally quickly executed prints, expose a more spontaneous, honest and uncensored side of an artist’s production. For the viewer, the typically smaller size of works on paper demands a more attentive consideration. The feeling of intimacy also derives from Degas’ use of family and friends as subjects. The exhibition offers a personal and thought-provoking glimpse into the life of the artist through portraits of his father, brothers, a niece, his long-time housekeeper, along with three rare self-portraits.
Though often referred to as the “reluctant Impressionist” Edgar Degas is thought to be one of the founders of Impressionism, and a key figure in the development of modernism. His scenes of contemporary life, off-center and cropped compositions, and experiments with color are among the hallmarks of Impressionist style. Beginning in 1874, Degas exhibited his work in all but one of the eight exhibitions organized by the independent exhibiting society that came to be known as the Impressionists. As with other modernists, Degas used photography to capture images and compositions for later use, and was also influenced by the cropping and sense of passing immediacy that a photograph evokes. The several photographs in the exhibition allow for a close study of these influences.
All the works in Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist are drawn from the collection of Robert Flynn Johnson, Curator Emeritus of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and have never before been publically exhibited together. While the focal point of the exhibition remains the master and his circle, the value and importance of the collector must not be overlooked. Any exhibition that comes from a single collection retains the imprint of that collector. With passion, persistence, and thorough knowledge, the work on view here has been collected over a span of four decades. And in Mr. Johnson’s own words, “collections formed over an extended period of time allow the knowledge and taste of the collector to grow and mature.” What is included in a private collection, and what is not, is often a reflection of the collector’s taste, but also has much to do with current trends, finances, timing, opportunity, and sometimes luck. For example, the first piece by Degas that Johnson acquired for his collection in 1973 was Les Deux Arbres, ca. 1878, a lovely, small monotype of two trees. As a landscape study the piece was not of great interest to more seasoned collectors at the time, therefore available and affordable to Mr. Johnson. By far, the greatest value in the purchase of this piece was the ensuing passion to collect more.
General Admission for this exhibition: $10 General. Free for PACmembers.
Chasing Degas: My Four Decades Collecting this Artist and his Circle; Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson, Thursday, July 2, 7 to 8:30 p.m. $15 General, $10 PAC members.
Public/ Private: Collecting for the Community while Collecting Personally, a Balancing Act; Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson, Thursday, July 16, 7 to 8:30 p.m. $15 General, $10 PAC members.
The exhibition will be on view through July 26, 2015. For more information, or to purchase advance tickets go to their website, www.petalumaartscenter.org.
Thursday through Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday)
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Petaluma Arts Center
230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma