The Galerie Mansart at the National Library in Paris has opened an exhibition of Edgar Degas' photographic works due to last until August 22nd 1999.
The invention of photography and its development soon became essential in the eyes of many artists of the 19th century who saw this new technique as a much useful tool to reach a new dimension regarding their way of working.
The invention photography proved lethal for miniature painters as most people were given the possibility of having their portraits produced in a much rapid and economic way.
This exhibition has revealed Degas' interest in photography and also in its use. Several of his shots were found in the archives of his family and friends such as the Halévy brothers or the poet Mallarmé while two photos of nudes were discovered at the Paris flea-market. These are being shown together with drawings or paintings in order to prove that Degas tried to use photographs as the basis of certain of his works.
Already in 1860, Degas drew his inspiration from certain photographic pictures to paint some of his works, notably portraits, but it was after reaching the age of 60 that he decided to use a camera for himself. Before coming to that stage, he had been interested in nude photos, which he had seen in the studios of many fellow-artists as well as the photographic works of Muybruidge on the movement of horses split up in series of snapshots.
Without receiving any lesson nor technical advice, he decided to use a camera, the first time in September 1895 in Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme where he took two views, his only known shots of landscapes.
The following year, he took some photos of models but here again, two shots have survived and many others remain to be discovered. These photos have nevertheless a close connection with his pastel, monotype and oil works as the exhibition tends to demonstrate.
However, no one is sure whether these shots were intended for the production of such works or simply as a test to judge of their results. But one thing is for sure, Degas, in using a camera, behaved like the artist he was, playing with contrasts and light effects as in his graphic and painted works.
Degas used Mallarmé, the Halévy brothers, Renoir or himself as models for his photographic portraits, paying a close attention to the intensity of the images he produced and to Chiaroscuro effects while applying his own artistic ideas in using a camera.