Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Degas at the Burrell Collection

I've visited the Burrell Collection in Glasgow many times but today I went with an interest in Degas' pastels. Following my last assignment done in pastels I have a new found interest in the medium and I wanted to have another look at his drawings. It was very interesting and seeing them in person allowed me to study his technique much better than from the pictures on the Internet. I've seen these drawings before but I was able to take a lot more from them this time.

The main thing I noticed was the way he layered his pastels on top of each other but still allowing the colour of the ground to shine through.

Degas - Dancers in a Box 1884

Degas - Woman in her bath 1884

He applies the pastels in a very directional way, with different areas having different direction of strokes. In "Dancers in a Box" the bright orange and the highlights on the figures are laid down in horizontal hatching and I noticed he would often have a different colour underneath with the opposite stroke direction. He wouldn't use this hatching on all parts of a drawing though. The pinky highlights on the shoulders and left arm of the figure in "Woman in her Bath" are much more natural. They seem to be applied in a rounder motion but still allow the darker colour underneath to shine through. None of his marks appear to be blended very much, they still have a new, unpolluted feel to them.

In "Woman in her Bath" it is possible to see pentimenti where he has made changes to the woman's arms and legs. He hasn't made much effort to hide these changes which is interesting in itself. It's as if he has left them so they become part of the drawing suggesting movement and change.

There was an unfinished drawing there, "Woman at her Toilette" c1897 (I wasn't able to find an image of this) which demonstrated how Degas started a drawing. Unusually, this drawing was done on a canvas rather than paper, possibly this is why he didn't complete it. His method was to draw the outline of the figure in with charcoal first and then to block in the areas of colour with broad strokes.

Degas - The Green Dress c. 1897-1901
45 x 37 cm

The other interesting thing that I found out was that Degas would draw on tracing paper and then stick this to board, as in "The Green Dress". From what I can find out, it seems he would frequently use tracing paper possibly to combine elements of different drawings to make new compositions.

The drawing that impressed me most was his beautiful drawing " The Red Ballet Skirts". The reason for this was the colour of the skirts. Rather than a red though is was more and orangey pink. Nonetheless it was vibrant and striking unfortunately this reproduction cannot convey. The colour had been laid down in vertical strokes. I think it was this top layer of unblended pastel that gave the drawing its brilliance.

Edgar Degas - The Red Ballet Skirts  1895-1901 Pastel on tracing paper 81.3 x 62.2 cm
Looking at this drawing, there's not much too it. He hasn't spent ages describing tiny details. Rather it is the accurately placed quick strokes and his choice of colours that convey the flesh  and the texture of the figures and their dresses.

Degas strikes me as a very sensible person, not afraid to use aid like photography and tracing paper that other artists would possibly see as cheats, in order to use his time and media to its best advantage. He seems to be economical with his technique as if he was eager to try new things out and always thinking about the next drawing or step in his development as an artist.

1 comment:

Edwin Moore said...

Excellent thanks - Love the Burrell!