Musée No:792.021Regular price £25.00
Paul Lafond and Alphonse Cherfils Examining a Painting,
Artist: Edgar Degas
Date: c. 1878-1880
Edgar Degas, (1834 –1917), was a French Impressionist artist famous for his pastel drawings and oil paintings. He enjoyed capturing female dancers and played with unusual angles. In 1855 he entered the École des Beaux-Arts, a year later he travelled to Italy and stayed for three years. He attended life classes at the Villa Medici in Rome. In Paris he continued to study at the Louvre, where he met Manet. The pair quickly developed a friendly rivalry and a dislike for the “art establishment”. His interest in portraiture and history painting continued, but he began to pay attention to subjects of modern life.
At the time of the Franco-Prussian War, in July 1870, he served in the infantry with Manet. Immediately after the war when the infamous Paris Commune seized control of the capital, he chose to travel - first to London and then to see family in New Orleans. Returning to Paris at the end of 1873, Degas, along with Monet, Sisley and several other painters, formed the Société Anonyme des Artistes, a group with the aim of putting on art exhibitions out of the Salon's control. He also learned that his brother had run up enormous business debts. Degas had to sell his house and an inherited art collection to preserve his family's reputation, and pay off his brother's debts. It was during this period of financial hardship, when he was solely dependent on the income from his art, that he produced much of his greatest work, a decade beginning in 1874.
Degas participated in the first impressionist exhibition of 1874. He continued to exhibit with them until 1886 but never really considered himself a member of the group, preferring to call himself a realist or naturalist. Degas worked with models in his studio and, later in his career, from his imagination, as opposed to en plein air. He exhibited modern portraits of modern women — milliners, laundresses and ballet dancers — painted from radical perspectives. In addition to painting, he experimented with engraving, pastels, sculpture, and photography - he used the photos for reference in drawings and paintings. He travelled widely across Europe but his subject matter stayed the same: Parisian, the female nude and the ballet dancer. In the 1890s as his personal wealth grew he began his own art collection, which included paintings by El Greco, Manet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Ingres, Delacroix.
The Sitters: In the top left hand corner of this double portrait Degas has written “Mes chers amis” (my dear friends). The friends are Paul Lafond (left), a future curator of the art museum in Pau, France, and Alphonse Cherfils (right), an art collector and defender and admirer of the Impressionists. They would go directly to artists’ studios to purchase works that they wanted to exhibit or sell. No doubt because of them his painting, A Cotton Office (1873) painted in New Orleans was purchased by a museum. The painting being studied by the two men is probably by Degas, so it is a reminder of both personal and business relationships with his dear friends.