Edgar Degas, auto-portrait
drapeau français english flag

Edgar Degas        1834-1917
The digital critical catalogue
Launching September 17th, 2019
by Michel Schulman

The chosen methodology

This catalogue takes into account earlier works and publications, the four Degas sales of 1918-1919 (with classification by paintings, pastels and drawings), the catalogue by Paul-André Lemoisne and the supplement by Theodore Reff of 1984. With, of course, numerous exhibition catalogues.

The corpus of paintings and pastels that we present will eventually include about 1,900 works from public and private collections. Each work will be presented with a photograph, a fact sheet, its history, its exhibitions and its bibliography. For those works found in public collections, a link is given to the museum to which it belongs. We have noted some 3,000 exhibitions from 1865 to date in which one or more works have appeared.

Theodore Reff’s immense contribution to our understanding of Degas must be emphasized.
We have included works from his Degas Supplement of 1984, along with additional information after that date. His contributions up to 1984 are clearly indicate by [Reff] in recognition of his paternity of that information.

Why a digital catalogue?

Institut national d'histoire de l'art - Paris. Photo : M.S
We’ve chosen to publish this work digitally for a number of reasons:
- The quantity of information about Degas’s work is now considerable regarding both exhibitions, publications and conferences/lectures;
- It has become necessary to publish a new catalogue after the Lemoisne's issued 70 years ago;
- Digital publication allows for efficient, quick and flexible searches for and distribution of information in ways not possible with paper publication;
- Deletions, corrections and modifications can be carried out quickly and without disruption. For a critical catalogue that’s an essential mark of its vitality, relevance and the basis for its longevity;
- Within the files of each work the door remains open to alternative suggestions and propositions regarding dates, a possibility that gives true meaning to the critical nature of the catalogue.

In the entries of works, the exhibitions and bibliographical elements are presented in shortened terms. Full informations are in the lists of exhibitions and bibliography.

The numbers of Degas in public and private collections

- Worldwide, 800 works are on record in public collections, i.e. 42% of the artist’s body of work in the mediums under examination. The United States holds the largest number of these works at 380, followed by France with 140, the majority of which are held by the Musée d'Orsay. These are followed by the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany and Japan.
- 900 are held in private collections, i.e. 47% of the total of 1900 works.
- We are also cataloguing around 200 works that were not located by Lemoisne and have yet to be located.

The choice of themes

A new classification: 7 themes represent the essential of Degas’s painting and pastel work:
- Dancers (36%), bathers (18%), portraits (24%), equestrian scenes (6%), music (2 %), landscapes (7%) and women at work (2%), with all others representing 5%. The search engine of the digital catalogue makes it possible to access all data in cross-referencing by theme, date, medium, dimensions, technique, signature and stamp.

The main techniques employed

- The majority of Degas’s work is in pastel, with 1,230 works, i.e. 65%, created for the most part between 1880 and 1900.
- There are 555 oil paintings, i.e. 29%, 300 of which were painted between 1870 and 1890.
The complexity of mixed techniques that Degas often used can make precise classification and counting difficult. For example, the pastels heightened with charcoal or the pastels on monotype that we’ve catalogued here. To our eyes, those are the most seductive of the artist’s work.

The mediums used

We know that Degas favored working on paper, which he found interesting for both technical reasons (speed of execution and of drying) and monetary reasons, especially with respect to the British art market. Contrary to what is sometimes read, he did not, however, give up painting after a major shift in the middle of the 1870s. He undoubtedly then experienced more difficulty in painting and therefore to honor commissions that he’d received. Pastel on paper and such thus corresponded better to the problems that he was having, not the least of which was an onset of blindness. The top of the list of mediums that he used goes as follows:
- Paper: 885 works, i.e. 46%;
- Canvas: 490 works, i.e. 25%;
- Cardboard: 170 works, i.e. 10%;
- Tracing paper: 90 works, i.e. 3%;
- Panel: 90 works, i.e. 5%.
These results highlight Degas’s growing interest for varied and innovative pictorial experiments.

Degas exhibitions in numbers

Figures of note regarding exhibitions:
- in museums: 2,000;
- in galleries: 655;
- elsewhere: 420.
Paris tops the list with 420 exhibitions, followed by New York (360), London (320), Tokyo (75), Washington (60), Chicago (43) and Boston (32). The most important exhibition has surely been the 1988-1989 Degas retrospective in Paris, Ottawa and New York.

Between stamps and signatures

Cachet atelier Degas
Among the corpus of paintings and pastels that we have established, there are:
- nearly 750 signed works;
- more than 800 with only the stamp of posthumous sales;
- more than 360 with neither signature nor stamp.

Related works

The related works will be online later. See example MS-748.

What our datings confirm

From the digital critical catalogue it appears that Degas was clearly most active between 1880 and 1900, with the creation of more than a thousand works, i.e. slightly more than 50% of the overall corpus studied. Regarding themes by date, 440 works depicting dancers and 300 depicting bathers were created between 1880 and 1900. That period marks the apogee of Degas’s work. After 1900 there is a slowing down of new work before stopping around 1907, probably due to his blindness. According to our figures, works on paper dominate, with works on canvas following far behind, clearly showing Degas’s appetence for the former. We have already noted the reasons.

Going forward

We hope that our work will serve other researchers. At the same time, we will continue to enrich our files with information from account books of art galleries and from numerous sales and exhibition catalogues.

Multiple aspects of Degas’s work arise from this digital critical catalogue. We believe that our work, which has never before been undertaken and which marks a major step in the knowledge of the Degas’s body of work and of his history, will become a main reference for this artist. The Degas digital critical catalogue will therefore contribute to the advancement of our knowledge of an artist who profoundly marked the history of French painting.

Degas, auto-portrait 1855. Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Acknowlegments

To my son Benoît.

We wish to thank the following for their valuable help and support:

Louise d'Argencourt, Paris
Armelle Baron, Paris
Olivier Berman, Artcurial Paris
Jacqueline Bertin Edelheit, Paris
Gérard Bouté, Baden
Guy Boyer, Connaissance des Arts, Paris
Laurence des Cars, présidente des musées d'Orsay et de l'Orangerie
Thomas Colville, Connecticut
Chris Dercon, président de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux (RMN-GP)
Jean-François Desclaux, Vendôme
David Dupont, Genève
Flavie Durand-Ruel, Paris
Danielle Escher, Paris
Hélène Girard, Paris
Vivien Hamilton, Glasgow
Sylvie Harburger, Paris
Helly Nahmad Gallery, New York
David Jarmai, Londres
Gary Kraut, Paris
Dominique Lancastre, Pluton Magazine, Paris
Pascale Leprince-Ringuet †
Georges Levet, Paris
David Lévy, Paris-Bruxelles
Dominique Lobstein, Paris
Suzanne Mannheimer, Toulouse
Marie-Christine Maufus, Wildenstein Institute, Paris
Bruce Mee, Paris
Thierry Mercier, Paris
René Minoli, Paris
Patrick Minot, Boissise-le-Roi
Jill Newhouse, New York
Jean Pénicaut, Lumière Technology, Paris
Roberto Perazzone et Irénée Brun, Paris
Annie Pfeffer, Strasbourg
Sophie Piétri, Wildenstein Institute, Paris
Galerie Paul Prouté, Paris
Diane de Puységur, Paris
Jeanne Rigal, Christie's Paris
Jane Roberts, Paris
Marianne Rosenberg, New York
Elisabeth Royer, Paris
Elisabeth Santacreu, Le Journal des Arts, Paris
Schiller and Bodo, New York
Michaël Sfez
Bénédicte Van Campen, Sotheby's Paris
Guy Wildenstein, Wildenstein Institute, Paris

We wish to thank all the museums that kindly waived their reproduction rights. I also wish to thank the librairies and research institutes who welcome and helped my project :

Archives nationales, Paris
Bibliothèque Forney, Paris
Bibliothèque du musée Picasso, Paris
Bibliothèque du Petit Palais, Paris
Bibliothèque nationale, Paris
Frick Art Reference Library, New York
Institut national d'histoire de l'art, Paris
La documentation et la bibliothèque du musée d'Orsay