Monday 27 September 2021

'An uneasy participant...'

 On this day in 1917, Edgar Degas, the artist described by Kenneth Clark as the best draughtsman since the high renaissance, died. He was old (83), blind and more or less alone – the last from choice: he was famously misanthropic (and, it has to be acknowledged, a virulent antisemite). No longer able to draw or paint, Degas spent his last years as a forlorn and solitary figure, wandering the streets of Paris. He had never fitted in: Valéry described him as 'an uneasy participant in the tragicomedy of modern art, mad about drawing', and both halves of that are true. Without the daily struggle to draw what he saw, he had nothing to live for. 
  R.B. Kitaj drew the pastel above from an image in a book, Mon Oncle Degas by Jeanne Fevre, that he found on the Quai Voltaire. 'This old, bitter antisemite in bed, 'Kitaj wrote, 'not only put lines in places which seem more 'right' than anyone else's lines, but, like Michelangelo in his last crucifixion drawings, he uttered a spiritual cry, maybe of anguish at the human shell in imperfected life ... Degas drew so well because he wouldn't give up ... He could never go far enough.'

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