Edgar Degas: For and Against Method

Edgar Degas, Scene from the Steeplechase: The Fallen Jockey, 1866, reworked 1880
Edgar Degas, Scene from the Steeplechase: The Fallen Jockey, 1866, reworked 1880-1881 and c. 1897, oil on canvas, 70 7/8 x 59 13/16 inches (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)

Barry Schwabsky reviews the exhibition Degas' Method at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, on view through September 1, 2013.

Schwabsky writes that the show "focuses on [Degas'] aesthetic premises and representational strategies as they cut across medium, motif and the artist’s career... And yet, allergic as he was to the idea of method, of devising a formula and then unfailingly applying it, Degas was nothing if not methodical, working with great diligence and intense application. He disavowed impulse and extemporization as much as he did method. 'I assure you,' he liked to say, 'no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament…I know nothing.' The key is repetition: 'It is necessary to execute a motif ten times, a hundred times. Nothing in art must look accidental.' "

Schwabsky also finds a contemporary in the work of Merlin James: "Like Degas, [James] emphasizes his attachment to tradition... And yet for all his supposed traditionalism, James takes no aspect of painting for granted."