A Strange New Beauty

Edgar Degas
A Strange New Beauty
Museum of Modern Art – New York, NY

Pas Battu, 1879, pastel over monotype on paper

Known best for painting, Edgar Degas experimented with printmaking during two main points in his career: in the mid 1880’s and mid 1890’s. At a time when the mass-produced image, particularly photography, was becoming standard, artists such as Degas sought to capture the singularity of experience in artistic creation. He played with all forms of the press: etching, drypoint, aquatint and lithography.

A partner in his printmaking adventures, Pierre-Georges Jeanniot, described Degas’ anticipated as monotype plate and paper were about to be cranked through the press: “When everything was ready… Degas said, ‘What a terrifying moment!’

The monotype process–ink drawings rendered on a metal plate and run through a press–typically create a single image, though through experimentation, Degas created mirror images of variable clarity with a single press.

Manipulating theories of reproduction and originality, Degas overlays monochromatic prints with pastels, connecting his forays into printmaking with his well-known handling of color on paper.

Always of mention are the Degas dancers and cafe performers, but the most captivating works here are the monotypes of shadowed, anonymous bathers. He worked the press like a painter, not a printmaker. Smears of ink, some of which hold his fingerprints, lines edged with the backhand of a brush, molted and cloudy, Degas rendered his figures and scenes, tranquil, dreamlike, otherworldly.

Duex Danseuses, 1877, monotype on paper
Danseuse, 1876-77, pastel and opaque watercolor over monotype on paper
Woman Going to Bed (Le Coucher), 1880-85, monotype on paper
Bedtime (Le Coucher), 1883, pastel over monotype on paper

Landscape with Rocks (Paysage avec rochers), 1892, pastel over monotype in oil on paper

On view through July 24

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