DENIS ROUART's Degas: a la recherche de sa technique is the only monograph on the artist to base a discussion of his oeuvre on a study of his techniques. Rouart was especially well qualified to write such a book, being the son of Ernest Rouart, the only one of Degas's few proteges to benefit from a programme of instruction with the solitary artist. Denis Rouart's grandfather, Henri, who died in 1912, was one of Degas's closest and oldest friends. Since the publi- cation of the book in 1945, historians have relied heavily on the text for terminology and explanations of Degas's materials and procedures. A project to translate the book led us to re-examine the paintings and graphic works discussed by Rouart. The re-examination, using procedures and equipment not available to him, has clarified his terminology and in a few cases revised his explanations of Degas's techniques. Six works created during the two most problematic periods of Degas's career (the late 1870s and c. 1890–1900) can be used to present the most salient points that emerged from our study.
THE SALE of Edgar Degas's remarkable collection of Old Masters and nineteenth-century pictures at the Galerie Georges Petit in March 1917 could not have come at a more inopportune time: the war was still raging and the German troops were not all that far from Paris. Under these circumstances, it was hardly surprising that the auctioneers failed to send a copy of the catalogue to the National Gallery.
NOTWITHSTANDING his links with European expressionism and his pictorial explorations of the psyche, Edvard Munch never entirely severed himself from his roots in the Norwegian naturalism of Christian Krohg, his de facto teacher, and Hans Jaeger, his spiritual mentor. Art, they believed, should reflect an artist's personal experience and hence be autobiographical. If these tenets are broadened to include imaginative constructions derived from past experiences they could be said to apply to much of Munch's work. In his later years he consciously resisted modernism, stating in 1910 that he was working 'contrary to the modern style'. He painted a large number of portraits which, despite much variation in style and at times caricatural exaggeration, are basically realistic likenesses clearly intended to produce acute characterisations of the individuals portrayed. Nearly all these portraits, moreover, derive their virtues from personal contact with the sitter; the lack of such contact in the case of his portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche produced a clumsy and contrived result. Jaeger and Krohg further maintained that the emotions felt by the artist when he worked should be intelligibly communicated by his work, so that all its viewers could share his emotions and benefit from his experience. Munch's espousal of this didactic social purpose differentiates him from most late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century modernists. It links him, in fact, to a much older artist, G.F. Watts, who, like Munch, believed art should be made accessible to the people through the pictorial decoration of public buildings. Both Watts and Munch painted a series of symbolic pictures dealing with love, life and death which they wished to hang as an ensemble in a great hall, though neither achieved this aim. Watts's series which he called the House of life was conceived about 1850, over forty years before Munch's similar series, the Frieze of life.
MANET 's rare pen-drawn autographie, or transfer lithograph, of a cafe interior (Fig.35) was catalogued in 1906 by Moreau-Nelaton and then, with the even rarer brush version (Fig.36), by Guerin in 1944. At the time of the 1977 Manet exhibition at Ingelheim- am-Rhein, an unrecorded sheet, evidently cut from a printed journal, came to light and excited great interest. Although laid down, it was possible to read fragments of text and an image on the verso, indicating Paris and a date in February 1874. However, this cutting provided no clue to the identity of the journal and could not be examined more closely at the time.
THE EXHIBITION, The Hidden Face of Manet, an investigation of the artist's working processes presented by THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE at the Courtauld Institute Galleries in 1986, brought to light important new information concerning Edouard Manet's series of three paintings and one lithograph depicting the execution of the Emperor of Mexico, Austrian Archduke Maximilian, on 19th June 1867. It demonstrated that throughout the series Manet made adjustments to the figures of the firing squad, and particularly to that of the commanding officer who gave the signal to fire with his sword. An X-radiograph of the final version of the painting (Stadtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim, Fig.41) revealed that the officer - whose presence behind the soldiers is now registered only by glimpses of his red kepi and sword tassle - once stood prominently between the firing squad and the noncommissioned officer loading his gun to the right. In the exhibition's catalogue Juliet Wilson Bareau suggested that the subsequent overpainting of the officer may have taken place before the painting received its first public exhibition in New York and Boston during the winter of 1879-80. However, a description of the painting in a review published in the 'Fine Arts' column of the New York Herald of 29th November 1879 (page 4) indicates that the now virtually absent officer was present in the Mannheim version during its American showings:
On a large canvas, eight feet eleven inches in length by eight feet four inches in height, are the life-size figures of the Mexican Emperor, his two generals and their executors. To the left, facing the spectator, is Maximilian, clasping the hands of Mejia, who is on his left, and of Miramon to his right. Standing in a semicircle, with their backs to us, at only some eight feet away from the three, are the firing squad. The officer in charge is behind them, and at their back, on the right, stands the sergeant, cocking his musket for the coup de grace, if it is necessary. The squad of six are in the act of firing, evidently at Mejia, and the flame and smoke partly obscure the faces of the fated three.
MORE than any of his contemporaries, Degas took a keen interest in the framing of his works and was, with Whistler and Pissarro, one of the most creative artists of his period in this - as in so many other - respects. The recent retrospective exhibitions of his work in Paris, Ottawa and New York have provided an opportunity to reflect on his own presentation of his paintings, pastels and drawings.
THE transfer of the great Degas retrospective from Paris to the National Gallery of Canada and then the Metropolitan Museum provided fresh perspectives and the opportunity to meditate further on his complex career. This was to be expected, as the composition of the show had perforce to adapt from venue to venue. The Musfe d'Orsay's pastels remained in Paris, for example, and the Metropolitan's in New York. Even the underlying consistencies of the selection were varyingly highlit or diffused at the three locations.
ON 26th December 1888 Gauguin left Arles after his falling-out with Van Gogh and returned to Paris. Shortly afterwards, he began a series of ten lithographic drawings on zinc plates which he finished by 20th February 1889. The series has become known as the Volpini suite after the proprietor of the Cafe des Arts in Paris where an album was included in the Groupe Impressioniste et Synthetiste exhibition in the summer of 1889. Two of the series have an unusual iconography which has not been fully examined.