At the Musée d’Orsay, Degas and Manet reunited in a fruitful friendly and artistic match


Degas and Manet, it’s the marriage of the carp and the – hot – rabbit. Two men that a priori everything opposes, but who have nevertheless been united by a mutual respect crossed by a fierce and yet fruitful artistic competition. The XXe century has known similar ones, with the friendly rivalry between Matisse and Picasso. In the 19the century, the game is played between Edouard Manet (1832-1883) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917). This is what the Musée d’Orsay shows with an exhibition, produced jointly with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it will go in September, which brings together exceptional loans.

Wanted by Laurence des Cars, before she was appointed director of the Louvre, it was produced by Isolde Pludermacher, general curator of paintings at the Musée d’Orsay, and Stéphane Guégan, scientific advisor. They brought together fifty-one paintings by Manet, two pastels, ten drawings, sixteen engravings and a few letters. In this set, thirty-one works belonged to Degas, who avidly collected his colleague (he had more than eighty). “He will live with Manet from his death until his own death”, says Stéphane Guégan. That is for thirty-four years…

Added to this is a Gauguin, a fairly free copy of theOlympia (1863), by Manet, acquired by Degas in 1895. For his part, he is represented by forty paintings, seven pastels, seventeen drawings, two monotypes (a technique of which he was one of the pioneers), two sketchbooks – one of which is very surprising, to which we will return – and a few letters. These works, scattered all over the world, many in private collections, made the trip to Paris for the occasion, and we won’t see them together again anytime soon.

“Very different temperaments”

But such a meeting, what for? At first glance, they have nothing in common. ” Certainly, explains Isolde Pludermacher, they are two very different temperaments, but who have always rubbed shoulders, looked at each other, who have reacted a lot to each other, who have dealt with the same subjects, but each time in a very distinct way. What’s also interesting about their relationship is that at different times in their lives, they’ve tried to attract each other to each other without ever succeeding. »

It is with testimonies of this friendship, “enigmatic in many ways”, emphasizes Isolde Pludermacher, who is opening the exhibition. An unbalanced report at the start: “In the 1860sshe says, Manet shines, while Degas is still nobody. They would have met at the Louvre, in front of The Infanta Margarita, of Velazquez, which Degas copied by directly engraving a sheet of copper, without going through a preliminary drawing. Manet was fascinated by this audacity. » Degas, for his part, seems, if not delighted, at least attracted by his elder. He portrays him many times. Manet will never represent Degas.

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