FINE ARTS

Degas at the Opera

Thames & Hudson. May 2020. 320p. ISBN 9780500023396. $60. FINE ARTS
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Degas studied the opera for much of his artistic career. Between the years 1885 and 1892, he attended 177 performances at the Opera Paris, observing how the dancers, musicians, and audience related to the spaces they inhabited, from stage to lobby to rehearsal rooms. As an impressionist artist, he re-created in his studio compositions the feelings of movement and feeling at the Opera, a frustration for performing art historians seeking to identify the specific ballets and theatrical sets he illustrated. The exhibition mounted at the Musée D’Orsay (Paris) and the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC) and accompanying catalog celebrate the Opera’s 350th anniversary. The exhibition brings together works from all over the world, including painting and the very fragile, lesser seen pastels. The primary author of this catalog is Henri Loyrette, general curator at the Musée D’Orsay, with other essays by hosting institution curators Kimberly A. Jones, Marine Kisiel, and Leila Jarbouai. Although thorough in its use of citations and bibliography, the nonchronological organization and busyness of the book’s design distracts somewhat from the scholarly focus.
VERDICT For lovers of the theatrical world of 19th-century Paris and Degas as its most important artistic documentarian, this catalog serves as an important resource.

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