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Degas and Velazquez

Last week in our art course we studied Edgar Degas and Diego Velazquez.

The current trend in art is to look at the personal life of an artist.

Paul Gauguin, for example, came in for severe criticism prior to his recent exhibition at the Royal Academy for leaving his family to marry a young Tahitian girl.

The magnificence of his paintings were for some overshadowed by a rackety personal life in which he gave vent to his sexual proclivities.

Degas too was not a particularly nice man by contemporary values.

He was so relentlessly anti-Dreyfus that he was labelled as anti Semitic.

His famous pictures of young ballet dancers are seen by some as pervy and voyeurish.

In fact the portrayal of movement is stunning and his high viewpoint possibly from a box of interest.

There can be no doubt as to the quality of his draughtmanship nor the power of his composition.

My favourite of his is The Absinthe Drinkers.

The two drinkers are in the corner of the picture detached from each other as they stare into their glass. No picture better illustrates the isolation of the alcoholic.

Not that much is known of the renowned 16the century court painter Diego Velazquez.

He was born in 1599 in Seville. He said his lineage was Portuguese minor aristocracy but some scholars believe he might be Jewish in fear of the Inquisition who dealt with converts harshly.

His excellence soon came to royal attention and he became court painter to various Spanish monarchs of the Habsburg empire notably Philip IV.

Personally I find his most famous picture las Meninas too formal.

I prefer Old Woman Cooking Eggs in which you can feel the eggs sizzling and almost savour their aroma.

Our teacher had a problem downloading his nude Venus.  Clearly on the internet the judgment on what should be restricted as porn has been made.

Oddly enough a good little earner for many a now-illustrious artist like Titian was an erotic painting for the private consumption of the person commissioning it.

This in a roundabout way brings me to the start of this post on prejudging art works.

The other interesting aspects of Velazquez are  that it was not until the 19th century that his genius was recognised not least by Picasso who did many studies of las Meninas.

About Alice Mansfield

A graduate of the Slade, Alice has painted and written about art all her life. With her children now having now grown up and departed the nest, she recently took up sculpture. More Posts

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