Friday, October 19, 2007

The Green Singer

The inspiration that the cover article from this month's issue of The Pastel Journal gave me was tremendous. The article displays the 8 Wonders of the Pastel World, which amounts to a jurying of individual pastel paintings (well, perhaps one is a drawing) by 8 famous artists in history. Then, the magazine chose 8 noted contemporary pastelists to comment on these great artists.

It doesn't hurt that they had beautiful photos of each artwork, and that the historical artists are known to all pastelists everywhere.

Because I find it rewarding to write critiques, I decided that my own choice for the best pastel work should be included here at

La Chanteuse Verte, 1884
23.75 " x 18.25"
The Green Singer
Edgar Degas

Degas (1834 - 1917) gets the wave as the artist with the number 1 pastel work of all time. I agree wholeheartedly with the premise, but my pick for the best work that I have seen by Degas is The Green Singer. This virtuoso painting resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I am kicking myself for not getting in there when I was in town last year, but I now have another reason to return to the big apple.

Considered to be performer, Marie von Goethem, this young subject is possessed of a stage grace that Degas brings out, even in his cropped style, by creating arcing lines that are most notably present in the left hand bent at the wrist, and the cocked head and extended chin. Counter pose the graceful figure with the artist's choice of the gauche colors turquoise, orange, yellow and olive. It seems to me that the colors become the star elements, as the orange and orangey-yellows bloom from the blue paper. And, even our singer is aware of the attraction of her stage attire.

Add to the mix Degas' wonderfully free scribbling marks of the background and the lace at the model's collar. Is the work unfinished, or simply rendered to create freedom of expression? Our hero is known for his attention to detail, and his slavish realism. Yet, his freedom of action as he grew older is noted, both in his usage of different and pioneering media, and in examples of his sketching style. 1884 is hardly his latter era, though. Perhaps the dogma about Edgar Degas must be re-thought. Can we think of him as an early expressionist?

Maybe I'd better step-up my personal goal of returning to the figure in my own art...can you say "Atelier," anyone?

Further Links:

Degas' Unfortunate Model.
Degas' Model in a Fictional Better Light.
Looks like when Degas' eyesight began to fail, he had to turn to pastels. (Link) They require less acuity, apparently. Oh boy, fellow pastelists, we still have work to do in educating the art public about our fantastic medium.


Casey Klahn said...

Actually, Degas is listed as number 5 in the eight wonders article in TPJ. I think they are listing the artworks chronologically. Somehow I got the idea that Degas was given higher status, maybe because his work is on the cover. Oh well, blame it on the onset of the flu!

Today I am writing the interview for Sheila Evans. Do my readers want to ask any questions of her?

Gesa said...

Nice post - I still have to open my TPJ, am saving that for a good coffee... tomorrow pm, maybe. I was at the Met a few years back, and must have seen this, but that was before I was getting into pastels... it's a good reason to go back.
Glasgow's Burrell Collection actually has a good collection of Degas', too - I need to get back there, too :)

Casey Klahn said...

I do the same with the beautiful magazine.
I'll have to look up the Burrell website sometime. Thanks, Gesa!

Lisa B. said...

Your post caught my eye as I've been planning a study of Degas. My very favorite Degas pastel is At the Milliner's.

I've been under the impression (no pun intended) that Degas started using pastels almost exclusively because of their brilliance, and that he actually preferred them to oils.

I love the individual strokes that are so clearly visible, and I'm trying to incorporate similar line work in my own pastels. It's hard to keep my fingers out of it.

Have you found any information on what kind of paper he used? Some of his pastels are quite large!

Casey Klahn said...

Degas is our patron saint, being the most famous of pastelists. By the same token, most aren't aware that his best known works were in pastel. Those include his ballet dancers series. So powerful is the profile of oil paint and the impressionists.
ED lived into his nineties, and never married. He did studio work, unlike his contemporaries who are known for on site work.
He tried his hand at monoprints (I think it was) , sculpture, and in it's infancy - photography. Talk about eclectic.
The Green Singer was done on a laid light blue paper, according to the MET. Go to the museum sites to find this kind of info on his paper.
I think Degas put everything into his pastels - brushes with solvent, fingers, kitchen sink. You name it.
Thanks for reading, Lisa. Nice posts on your palette, BTW. I'll be linking you here.