This selection of 19th-century French drawings complements the exhibition Edgar Degas: Six Friends at Dieppe (September 17 through January 15). Although that show focuses on one exceptional pastel portrait, it also highlights the Museum’s rich holding of other of Degas’s works and points to the strong 19th-century French drawing collection as a whole.
Degas (1834-1917) was an outspoken advocate for the independent presentation of contemporary art based on modern life. He helped to organize what became known as the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 and planned many of the seven shows that followed (the last of the series occurred in 1886). The artists involved did not wish to define themselves as a specific school or style, but Degas’s suggestion of “independents, realists, and impressionists” probably came closest to describing the many new directions in French art beyond the academic tradition of the official Salons. Degas considered himself a realist.
In his role as a major participant in the Impressionist exhibitions, as an artist who was highly regarded by those who understood advanced art, and as an engaged collector, Degas had many opportunities to study the creations of his contemporaries. His interest in the artists whose work is on view here reflected his lifelong passion for drawing and his constant desire to reexamine and refine his own methods and results.
This exhibition is dedicated to Eliza G. [Metcalf] Radeke and her niece, Helen Metcalf Danforth, the donors of the majority of works on display here and of most of the Degas drawings on view in the Granoff Galleries. These remarkable women were not only benefactors, but also the presidents of RISD’s Board of Trustees (1913-31 and 1931-47, respectively). Both contributed to many areas of the institution and to the Museum’s collection, but French drawings were their passion.
The Museum is grateful for the assistance of Mario Pereira (graduate student in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, Brown University) in organizing this exhibition.