Edgar Degas at the Norton Simon Museum
Over the course of his three decades of collecting, Norton Simon assembled one of the finest collections of 19th-century French art in an American museum. The artist toward whom Norton Simon gravitated most from this era was Edgar Degas (1834–1917), who is represented in the collection not only by his paintings, but by pastels, drawings, prints and sculpture. Spanning nearly every decade of Degas’s career and nearly every medium in which the artist experimented (the exception is photography), there are over 100 works by this complex artist at the Museum. This grouping is the second-largest in the world assembled by a single collector, after the Havemeyer collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (The recent publication, Degas in the Norton Simon Museum, provides an in-depth overview of the entire collection.)
While Degas employed a wide variety of media, in evidence at the core of his work is his exquisite draftsmanship. Born in Paris, by the time Degas was 20 this bourgeois son of a banker was copying artists in the Louvre and about to begin artistic training under a disciple of the 19th-century master Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Degas revered Ingres whom he met but once, and to the young art student the elder painter offered, “Draw lines, young man. Many lines.” Degas obliged, but instead of continuing in the traditional arena of history painting, the young Parisian turned his eye toward contemporary life. His subject matter included the ballet, bathing women, portraits, women at work, landscapes, figure studies and horses, all of which are represented in the Norton Simon Museum collection. The spirited, dramatic angles of Dancers in the Wings, the exhausted intensity of Women Ironing, the nearly desperate self-assurance of Little Dancer: Aged Fourteen—Degas was keenly attuned to the moments he decided to capture, adjusting his compositions, techniques and style to infuse his subjects with the esteem they deserved.
The following is a gathering of all of the Degas works in the Museum’s collection, divided into three categories: paintings, which consist of works on canvas or paper using oil, pastel, essence (dilute oil paint) and gouache; prints and drawings, which consist of charcoal, chalk, etchings, lithographs and monotypes on paper; and sculpture, defined as any work made in three dimensions