Spread across nine galleries on the second floor of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston's Caroline Wiesse Law Building, the exhibition Degas: A New Vision chronicles the life and works of one of the greatest artists of the late 19th century, French artist Edgar Degas. The MFAH collaborated with the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, to assemble the large collection of works, and the exhibition had its world premiere in Melbourne before coming to Houston — its first and only stop in the United States.
An additional 60 pieces were added to the exhibition once it arrived at the MFAH, including the famous work Dancers, Pink and Green, on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In total, the Houston exhibition features roughly 200 pieces spanning half a century. It is the most comprehensive display of Edgar Degas' work in 30 years, making it a rare experience for those interested in the artist.
"Not only will this exhibition not be seen anywhere else after it leaves Houston on January 16, but an exhibition of this scale of Degas’ work is unlikely to be presented again anytime soon, given its scope and the extensive number of loans from around the world that have been secured," said Mary Haus, head of marketing and communications at MFAH.
Degas was born in 1834 in Paris and died in 1917 after a long, storied and remarkable career as a painter and sculptor. He is widely recognized as one of the great French impressionists, joining the likes of Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Édouard Manet. Degas experimented with various media and combined traditional and emerging techniques in his art, and his work became a central influence for other artists long after his death, including Pablo Picasso.
In Degas: A New Vision, additional information and analysis found over the past several decades have been incorporated into the exhibition to shed new light on Degas' body of work. Each of the galleries focuses on a particular period in Degas' life and maturation as an artist. Between the detailed placards adjacent the pieces of art and the in-depth audio tour, it's a lot to absorb. Avid art buffs and fans of Degas will appreciate the lesser-known works sprinkled among his more famous pieces — in particular, the photography the artist undertook late in his career.
Those new to Degas will learn not just about his life, but also the full breadth of his work as he continued to evolve over time. While known for his iconic impressionist paintings of ballerinas, Degas explored many different media and topics in his long life as an artist, from portraits to sculptures to photography — all of which are demonstrated in multiple forms at the exhibition.
With the help of detailed placards and summaries of each gallery, visitors learn about the many aspects of Degas' work that made him so beloved today. For example, viewers are directed to Degas' penchant for depicting the true nature and movement of people and their environments. Once pointed out, it's hard to unsee how many of his subjects appear to be in the throes of daily life, only to be interrupted in the very moment captured in the work of art. Through his work, he didn't just influence different techniques of his time or create something beautiful to look at, he also captured life as he saw it during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Perhaps the most enlightening aspect of the exhibition, however, is the juxtaposition between the finished works and adjacent incomplete sketches. Through these collections, visitors can see the process by which Degas' masterpieces were made and his evolution over time. The same figure is outlined multiple times as he attempted to perfect lines and body positions. Various versions of the same painting hang adjacent to one another as he painted and repainted scenes — sometimes years apart — capturing the same memory or Biblical story.
As visitors walk through gallery after gallery demonstrating the many stages of Degas' professional life, these collections offer a micro-glimpse into the small ways he grew and stretched as an artist.
While the placards provide brief descriptions of each work, the audio tour is worth the extra money. Visitors are given an additional inside perspective on the history and significance of pieces throughout the galleries, as well as further background on the exhibition itself from MFAH Director and co-organizer of the exhibition Gary Tinterow, Curator of Photography Malcolm Daniel, and Curator of European Art David Bomford. The additional information is an excellent complement to the materials on display and adds a context for the works that greatly enriches a viewer's experience.
The audio tour is available in both English and Spanish and costs $4 for members and $5 for non-members.
The MFAH hosts more than a dozen exhibitions each year, featuring a wide range of artists, themes, media. Past exhibitions, for example, have featured Japanese screens, Picasso's black and white works, 19th-century photography, ceramics and jewelry. Its permanent collection houses more than 65,000 works from all over the world, some dating back thousands of years. The museum's collections and exhibitions are displayed in multiple buildings in the Museum District, making it one of the largest museums in the United States.
The exhibition runs from October 16, 2016 to January 16, 2017.
Museum of Fine Arts Houston
Caroline Wiesse Law Building
1001 Bissonnet Street
Houston, Texas 77005
Tuesday – Wednesday | 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Thursday | 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Friday – Saturday | 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday | 12:15 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Monday | Closed (except holidays)
Closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day