This post is about a MWC group visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on MONDAY, OCTOBER 2nd to see their season-opening exhibit: MANET:DEGAS. If you would like to go with the group, go to the MWC-SLACK / #manetdegas channel and let MarshaW and BetteN know that you’re attending. You could also DM them. The group will meet at 10:30am by the information booth; but you do not have to go with the group!. Additionally, if you want to have lunch with the group, use the provided VENMO code (also in MWC-SLACK) to prepay $40. per person. As previously, the likely-to-be-very-crowded Manet:Degas exhibit will require a timed entry which you do on site, via one of the many signs in the MET using the app WAITWHILE (download ahead of time, if you haven’t already). The other wonderful, boffo exhibit at the Met at the same time is ART FOR THE MILLIONS: American Culture and Politics in the 1930’s. It does NOT require a timed entry – but boy-oh-boy am I going to see that, too – although maybe on another visit.
Most of us get Degas and Manet confused. Why? Well, they’re both men, both from rather well-off Parisian families, they were very close in age (born in 1832 and 1834), and there are often similarities between their style and subjects. But, VIVE LA DIFFERENCE! They may also be one art history’s first and best examples of “frenemies.” And therein lies the tale which gives us all insight into each of their works, contextualizing them in terms of their relationship and their mid-1800’s period and its social norms.
This is a terrific exhibition with which to open the Fall season. Some of you may have already seen it in Paris at the Musee D’Orsay when it appeared earlier in the year. The first section of the exhibition, “An Enigmatic Relationship,” sets the stage and showcases a famous portrait done by Degas of Manet and his wife Suzanne. Manet famously loathed the portrayal of his wife and he actually razored off the portion of the canvas with her image on it. Big surprise, Degas was furious and took back his intended gift. There is now a rather dull, vertical gray block in the picture where the excised face had been.
Interestingly, these two artists who were apples and oranges (“cheese and chalk” for you Brits!) tred much of the same ground and tiptoed into modernity at almost the same time with landmark works. Manet’s “Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe”, painted in the mid-1860’s shows a naked woman lounging in a natural picnic setting with two men. That was followed-up with his culture-shifting “Olympia” which depicts a naked (of course!) courtesan languorously lounging in a voluptuous setting with a young, Black girl bringing her a wrapped bouquet of flowers. A gift, presumably? Perhaps the exhibition will explain to us why “Olympia” caused so much reaction at the time. In both cases, the women are naked, with porcelain-pale skin and seem utterly comfortable, content and confident. Given that both of these works were completed almost 20 years BEFORE Sargent’s almost career-crashing “Madame X” (also at the Met, by the way) it’s easy to see how very far ahead of his time the extroverted, large-living Manet was.
Manet died of syphilis at 51 (in 1883) and Degas outlived him by over thirty years, dying in 1917. Among other works, Degas concentrated on his lifelong interest in ballet, painting many variations on that theme. By the time he died, over half of his works featured young ballerinas and ballet settings.
THE OTHER SHOW – ART FOR THE MILLIONS: The 1930s was a decade of political and social upheaval in the United States, and the art and visual culture of the time reflected the unsettled environment. Americans searched for their cultural identity during the Great Depression, a period marked by divisive politics, threats to democracy, and intensified social activism, including a powerful labor movement. Hey, sound familiar? Featuring more than 100 works from The Met collection and several lenders, this exhibition explores how artists expressed political messages and ideologies through a range of media, from paintings, sculptures, prints, and photographs to film, dance, decorative arts, fashion, and ephemera.