The Collector Who Redefined Degas
Degas in the Norton Simon Museum Edited by Sara Campbell; Essays by Daphne Barbour, Richard Kendall, and Shelley Sturman Yale University Press, 576 pages, $95
Collector Norton Simon purchased his first artwork by Edgar Degas, a bronze Dancer in the Role of Harlequin, in 1955. By the time of his death in 1993, Simon’s Degas collection was second in scope and size only to that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This new catalogue examines the 102 works by the artist in Simon’s collection and argues for an “uncanny affinity” between Simon and the oblique and recalcitrant Frenchman.
The catalogue brings together the scholarly and technical expertise of Sara Campbell, curator of the Simon collection for almost 40 years, Degas scholar Richard Kendall, and National Gallery of Art conservators Shelley Sturman and Daphne Barbour. Analyzing the two-dimensional works, Kendall observes, “The idea that a single collector can change, or perhaps redefine, our understanding of a major artist’s work is somewhat unusual. In Norton Simon’s case, it proves difficult to resist.”
Edgar Degas born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, 19 July 1834 – 27 September 1917), was a French artist famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist. A superb draftsman, he is especially identified with the subject of the dance, and over half of his works depict dancers. These display his mastery in the depiction of movement, as do his racecourse subjects and female nudes. His portraits are notable for their psychological complexity and depiction of human isolation.
Early in his career, he wanted to be a history painter, a calling for which he was well prepared by his rigorous academic training and close study of classic art. In his early thirties, he changed course, and by bringing the traditional methods of a history painter to bear on contemporary subject matter, he became a classical painter of modern life.
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