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Sun Feb 28, 2021, 11:11 AM

Hi. Can you give me some advice?

I am writing my second book on art and artists and have discovered that the great 19th century French artist, Edgar Degas, was an anti-semite. He wasn't in the closet about his anti-semitic views which (to me) just diminished him so greatly I feel I have to mention it. I know he wasn't alone in his views. How is an historical figure dealt with in such an instance? I feel I would leave out part of the story on him if I don't include those views. Degas art, to the best of my knowledge, didn't "paint" his anti-semitism. He painted ballet dancers and those dancers make up the essay.

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Arrow 22 replies Author Time Post
Reply Hi. Can you give me some advice? (Original post)
CTyankee Feb 2021 OP
Ocelot II Feb 2021 #1
CTyankee Feb 2021 #5
Ocelot II Feb 2021 #6
CTyankee Feb 2021 #10
Ocelot II Feb 2021 #12
SeeingEyeRefugee Nov 6 #22
cyclonefence Feb 2021 #2
CTyankee Feb 2021 #7
cyclonefence Feb 2021 #13
CTyankee Feb 2021 #15
cyclonefence Feb 2021 #18
CTyankee Mar 2021 #19
Bayard Feb 2021 #3
CTyankee Feb 2021 #9
Gaugamela Feb 2021 #4
CTyankee Feb 2021 #8
Gaugamela Feb 2021 #11
CTyankee Feb 2021 #14
Gaugamela Feb 2021 #16
CTyankee Feb 2021 #17
Mike 03 Mar 2021 #20
CTyankee Mar 2021 #21

Response to CTyankee (Original post)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 11:21 AM

1. I didn't know that about Degas.

I guess I'd make only a brief reference to it, though, since it isn't especially relevant to his art. Some great artists, musicians, etc., held reprehensible views, and discussing them can be problematic. The composer Wagner is another example. He was a pretty rabid anti-Semite, even for his time, but there's nothing in his operas that reflects this. He became controversial well after his death, when Hitler and the Nazis lauded his operas for their depiction of Germanic mythological figures, along with the overt anti-Semitism in his writings. Degas doesn't have that kind of association, though.

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Response to Ocelot II (Reply #1)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 12:36 PM

5. The thing is that I love Degas work (I don't love Wagner's music).

Here is what I wrote:

I cannot end the discussion of Edgar Degas without noting the man’s virulent anti-Semitism. Not that Paris didn’t have its share of shameful anti-Semites spewing lies and propaganda. I do not consider this just “unfortunate.” It casts a permanent pall over his entire career and, to me, mars any great talent that he possessed.

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Response to CTyankee (Reply #5)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 12:45 PM

6. I do like Wagner's music (I'm listening to "Das Rheingold" right now),

actually more than I like Degas' paintings, which have always struck me as a bit insubstantial, at least those of dancers - but then I've never been a big fan of the French impressionists anyhow. I just looked up some info about Degas and learned that he was something of an equal-opportunity bigot in his old age; he even fired one of his models when he learned she was a Protestant. But I try to separate my attitude about an artist's personality or politics from what I think about their works, since a number of them were rather awful people. Talent and virtue do not always go hand in hand.

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Response to Ocelot II (Reply #6)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 01:02 PM

10. But didn't the Nazis glorify Wagner very loudly and publicly?

What Degas did with the monotypes in the early days of photography was another area which fascinates me and makes me want to write about it. Daumier was also interested in exploring it and my guess is that Degas knew about his work.

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Response to CTyankee (Reply #10)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 01:28 PM

12. They did, but that doesn't make his music less valuable;

he was an enormously talented composer and there's no evidence of his anti-Semitism in the music itself. If he were still alive I wouldn't go to performances or buy recordings because I wouldn't want to support such a person financially; I won't go to movies featuring prominent (living) right-wing actors for the same reason even if the movies themselves are politically neutral. But there is certainly nothing wrong with admiring the work of the very talented also-dead anti-Semite and evidently somewhat awful person Degas (who was an excellent draftsman even if he was an impressionist).

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Response to CTyankee (Reply #5)

Sat Nov 6, 2021, 12:23 PM

22. I think you conveyed the dichotomy (the beauty of his talent and the ugliness

of his beliefs) quite wonderfully.

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Response to CTyankee (Original post)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 11:30 AM

2. I think it's easy to forget or ignore the deep vein of anti-Semitism

that existed in France at that time. Are you familiar with the Dreyfus Affair? The idea that such injustice should be "state-approved" is an indication of how normalized such views were. Maybe it would help if you had a few sentences describing the political atmosphere at the time and how of his time Degas was?

Evil people can create beauty. I don't think Degas was evil, just conventional in his political thought.

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Response to cyclonefence (Reply #2)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 12:46 PM

7. I believe one source referenced the Dreyfus Affair, which evidently is when Degas was

painting. I didn't wade into it so I stopped doing the essay for a bit.

I had also been shocked at another discovery: if you go to his paintings of ballet dancers you sometimes see well dressed, fat older men present in the rehearsal room and in the wings of the stage watching. These men of means were called abonees, or subscribers, which allowed them to watch the dancers. Some of these dancers were as young as 13. It's pretty shocking when you realize why the men are there. We do know that these girls were from poorer families and their dancing provided an economic lifeline for their families.

Since the artist incorporated these men in the scenes he painted, I do have to mention them. I did not know this beforehand...

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Response to CTyankee (Reply #7)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 03:16 PM

13. Were the ballet dancers kept by these men?

I wonder, if the can-can dancers of the same period were "naughty girls" for showing their underpants when they danced, were ballet dancers who sort of showed *their* underwear when they danced, just as naughty? Did they have reputations as, well, prostitutes? I mean, when you think of how covered up regular women of the time were, even in the summertime, the garb of the dancers Degas painted must surely have been shocking. I wonder if the ballet were a high-class entertainment back then the way it is now? I bet it wasn't.

I'm really glad you posed your question--you've given me a project of my own, and that's important in these awful times! Thanks.

Edited to add: https://www.history.com/news/sexual-exploitation-was-the-norm-for-19th-century-ballerinas

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Response to cyclonefence (Reply #13)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 04:52 PM

15. I am guessing that these girls were sexually exploited.

There is one painting "During dance classes, Madame Cardenal" was the mother of one of the dancers and from this painting you can see her, reading a newspaper and oblivious of the men who were "observing" the rehearsal. I believe Degas was "outing" this woman for her disregard of her own child, by putting her name on the painting and making her infamous forever.

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Response to CTyankee (Reply #15)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 10:46 PM

18. I agree

but then, what else is new?

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Response to cyclonefence (Reply #18)

Mon Mar 1, 2021, 09:52 AM

19. Sadly, yes.

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Response to CTyankee (Original post)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 12:04 PM

3. I think I'd skip it

As you said, it didn't affect his art (I've always admired his ballerinas and racehorses).

Would you mention that Michelangelo was thought to be gay? I take the same attitude as i do now--their personal lives are their own (does not apply to terrorists when their beliefs become violently public).

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Response to Bayard (Reply #3)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 12:55 PM

9. I don't think Michelangelo being gay would be an issue. Overlooking predation on young girls is

something else. I do write about the abonees and also about the girls' parents watching rehearsals...

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Response to CTyankee (Original post)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 12:35 PM

4. Not advice, but I read this recently about Degas:

https://www.cnn.com/style/article/edgar-degas-ballet-dancers-artsy/index.html

The sordid truth behind Degas' ballet dancers

The sexual politics that played out in the foyer de la danse was of great interest to Degas. In fact, very few of his depictions of the dance show an actual performance. Instead, the artist hovers behind the wings, backstage, in class or at a rehearsal. In works like "L'Étoile (The Star)," from 1878, he depicts the curtain call at the end of the performance, with the curtsying dancer bathed in the unflattering glare of the lights. Behind her, a man in an elegant black tuxedo lurks in the wings, his face hidden by the goldenrod curtain.

. . .

Life was cruel to French ballet dancers, and they didn't have it much easier at the hands of Degas himself. Although the artist was known to reject the advances of his models, his callousness manifested in other ways. To capture the physicality and discipline of the dancers, Degas demanded his models pose for hours at a time, enduring excruciating discomfort as they held their contorted positions. He wanted to capture his "little monkey girls," as he called them, "cracking their joints" at the barre. "I have perhaps too often considered woman as an animal," he once told the painter Pierre Georges Jeanniot in a moment of revealing honesty.

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Response to Gaugamela (Reply #4)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 12:51 PM

8. Yes, I have that source. He did paint their pain and exhaustion. And you see in his sculpture, The

Little Dancer, you see her face referred to a monkey. That sculpture has a history of its own and would require me to write another essay just dealing with that. I had a choice and I chose to not write about it. I was more fascinated with the culture of its time.

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Response to CTyankee (Reply #8)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 01:17 PM

11. It's no secret that artists tend to be eccentric misfits. It seems Degas' work may be closer to

Toulouse Lautrec than Monet’s water lilies.

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Response to Gaugamela (Reply #11)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 04:45 PM

14. well, for one thing, Degas did not want to paint outdoors and said so.

So I am including (somehow, I dunno how) a brief "Meanwhile, Cezanne packed his brushes and departed for a little fishing town, L'Estaque, where he famously declared 'Everything in nature takes its form from the sphere, the cone or the cylinder.' It reportedly sent Renoir into raptures. For Georges Braque, the little rooftops in the town became little cubes.

Yes, I agree that Degas was interested in the vibrant city life in Paris. Lautrec was a co-celebrant of that life.

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Response to CTyankee (Reply #14)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 05:08 PM

16. I wish you well on your book. Sounds like a labor of love.

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Response to Gaugamela (Reply #16)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 05:54 PM

17. It is. I'm old now but I love art history. working on this book keeps my mind from turning into

jello, esp. with this shutdown.

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Response to CTyankee (Original post)

Tue Mar 2, 2021, 04:45 PM

20. You might look at how the recent controversies over Gaughan are being

handled.

It's not exactly the same, but the controversy is about how you handle a historically-highly-regarded artist about whom shocking revelations become known, and how you adjust or deal with the legacy going forward. I don't know if this is helpful, but it might give you some ideas.

Why Is the Art World Divided over Gauguin’s Legacy?
https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-art-divided-gauguins-legacy

Is It Time Gauguin Got Canceled?
Museums are reassessing the legacy of an artist who had sex with teenage girls and called the Polynesian people he painted “savages.”


https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/18/arts/design/gauguin-national-gallery-london.html

More than a century after his death, has the time finally come to cancel Gauguin?
From entering sexual relationships with young girls, to using his status as a westerner to exploit, Paul Gauguin is a controversial figure. So why do we keep making excuses, Farah Nayeri asks


https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/paul-gauguin-national-gallery-me-too-art-harassment-assault-a9216801.html

‘Formal Analysis Cannot Occlude the Real Issues’: How Curators Are Addressing Gauguin’s Dark Side in a New Show at the National Gallery in London
Art museums are grappling with how to display great works by artists who abused their models.


https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/gauguin-metoo-national-gallery-1672810

Sorry this reply is so late, but I just noticed your post.

Good luck with your book!

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Response to Mike 03 (Reply #20)

Tue Mar 2, 2021, 05:16 PM

21. I'm not that interested in Gauguin, to be honest. But I am not surprised at this discovery.

Gustave Klimt was a sex addict and died of syphilis. Fra Lippo Lippi was a bad monk but painted beautifully and the church looked the other way. He painted a Madonna and child using his mistress and baby son as models. The Pope said "Va bene!"

Thank you for this information! I have spent a whole 2 days trying to get my computer back after a thunderstorm conked it out. All my Word files, particularly my new book essays still in progress, were unavailable to me. And no Internet so no DU.

You are so kind to respond to my query. It is very helpful.

Thank you!

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