Museum  February 14, 2018  Megan D Robinson

'Degas: A Passion for Perfection' Entrances at the Denver Art Museum

Courtesy Denver Art Museum

Edgar Degas, Dancers, about 1900. Pastel and charcoal on tracing paper, mounted on wove paper, mounted on board;37-5/8 x 26-3/4in.Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester: Gift of Mrs. Charles H. Babcock

Showing now at the Denver Art Museum, its only American venue, Degas: A Passion for Perfection includes over 100 masterpieces by the French artist. Following its debut at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, the DAM exhibition runs Feb. 11‒May 20, 2018. Edgar Degas’ paintings, drawings, etchings, pastels, monotypes, and bronze sculptures are on view, as well as additional pieces by J.A.D. Ingres, Eugène Delacroix and Paul Cézanne. The exhibition follows Degas’ career from 1855 to 1906, and features some of his more famous works, including the DAM’s own Dance Examination (Examen de Danse), Three Women at the Races (Trois Femmes Aux Courses) and Woman Scratching Her Back.

Edgar Degas, Dance Examination (Examen de Danse), 1880
Courtesy Denver Art Museum

Edgar Degas, Dance Examination (Examen de Danse), 1880. Pastel on paper; 24-1/2 x 18 in. Denver Art Museum: anonymous gift, 1941.6  

Edgar Degas, Three Women at the Races (Trois femmes aux courses), about 1885
Courtesy Denver Art Museum

Edgar Degas, Three Women at the Races (Trois femmes aux courses), about 1885. Pastel on paper; 27 x 27 in. Denver Art Museum: anonymous gift, 1973.234

Edgar Degas, Woman Scratching Her Back, 1881
Courtesy Denver Art Museum

Edgar Degas, Woman Scratching Her Back, 1881. Pastel on paper; 15-7/8 x 16-1/4in. Denver Art Museum: The Edward & Tullah Hanley Memorial Gift for the People of Denver and the area, 1973.161.

While Degas’ early involvement with the Impressionist painters and his explorations of light and movement led many to consider him an Impressionist, he preferred to be called a Realist. Crossing many genres, his constant experimentation with style and medium made Degas an innovator. He even invented his own method of pigment extraction, known as l’essence. He frequently used pastels to add layers of color and texture to printed monotypes, and his experimentation with photography influenced the interestingly cropped viewpoints of his paintings.

Courtesy Denver Art Museum

Edgar Degas, Scene of War in the Middle Ages (Scène de guerre au Moyen Age), about 1865. Oil (essence) on paper laid down on canvas; 32-7/8 x 58-7/16 in. Musée d’Orsay, Paris: Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

Initially a historical painter, Degas moved on to explore portraiture, using the more muted palettes associated with old masters. He eventually turned to experiments with bold colors in his dynamic depictions of everyday life. A superb draughtsman, Degas excelled at depicting movement and was famously interested in horses, dancers, and opera. The exhibition traces the development of his style, from psychologically layered portraits to realistically kinetic sculptures and light-filled moments in time.

“Degas was the quintessential independent artist, and this exhibition will give visitors a more intimate look into his creative process,” said Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the DAM. “Several moments within the exhibition will encourage close, mindful looking, providing the opportunity for visitors to savor the range of media, subject matter and techniques that defined Degas as an innovator.” Degas believed creating true art required a life of solitude and dedication. As an older man, he took pride in in his reputation as a grumpy old curmudgeon.

Degas: A Passion for Perfection is a special ticketed exhibition, and includes an audio guide. An accompanying book published by Yale University Press is also available in The Shop and online. To learn more, or to purchase tickets, visit

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.

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