In this research post I am looking at monotype prints by Edgar Degas. That’s a severely limited scope. There’s no historical background, context in his practice, ongoing influence, critical responses… just me looking at marks, textures and tones. Given I’m not able to see an actual print by Degas, I’ve also chosen to limit myself to images on the Google Art Project – there is a reasonable selection of good quality images which I can view as a whole or zoom into with ease. Link 1 – the specific link I have, but probably not persistent. Link 2 – the main link, from which I searched for monotype and then selected Created By Edgar Degas.
In a series of interior scenes the source of light is of prime importance. In Intimacy a light above a mirror highlights the face and décolletage of a woman at her dressing table. The surface of the table and all the little pots and tools reflect light and the business of making herself beautiful. All this is on the left side of the image. On the right is space, darkness, quiet, with the slightest highlights on the nose, collar and chair of the waiting, observing man.
In Woman by a Fireplace the main lightsource is the fire, reflecting fiercely on the rounded behind of the woman. A little more light and highlighted detail comes from the candelabra and there is another reflecting glow from the dressing table mirror. Reflected glow is everything in Brothel Scene (Dans le Salon d’une Maison Close). The lightsource is curtained on the right. We see it reflected in the curve of the woman’s hip and under her breast, then clearer reflection in the wall mirror behind. Again the source is only hinted in Woman Reading (Liseuse). There is perhaps a glimpse top right, light reflected from the straight lines of the lounge, the woman’s curved back, and most strongly from the paper in her hands.A closer look at Woman by a Fireplace shows the contrast creating the bright glow of the fire. Almost all ink has been brushed or wiped away in the fireplace, intensified by almost complete coverage of ink immediately next to it. What look like less vigorous brush marks outline the curve of the buttock, combined with some very delicate gradation of shading. The plate was 27.5 x 37.7 cm, so I estimate the detail above would be around 8 cm wide. Would that shading be done by gentle dabbing or individual little strokes? The left foot has been described with a series of clear, narrow, sharp marks. I love the little flick creating the curve of the big toe nail. There is a lot more very direct drawing by scratch (the end of a paint brush?) on this print – more than on the other examples I’ve been looking at.
This print also includes the candelabra detail at the left. The energy is amazing, and such a variety of line used to describe the form. I feel I can see the actual movement of light sparkling off the metal.Above is a detail of Woman Reading, showing the variation in tone that Degas could achieve in a monotype. There is a full range from fully inked to what appears to be bare paper. Direction of line is vital in indicating the form of the woman’s back. As well as groupings of brush lines, dragged through the ink with different weights, and incised lines perhaps created by the end of the paintbrush, there is a range of more gentle shading particularly on the forearm at the left. Sometimes I think I can see the fingerprints of the artist. I really like this cropped view, so full of dynamic interest. I think it makes a wonder abstract composition – something to consider, as it would be much more achievable (or less unachievable) for me in my own samples. Brothel Scene is much lighter in tone than the other examples I have viewed. I think those fine, even, dark outlines must have been applied in an additive way, rather than ink being removed around them. On the other hand the molding of the mirror frame seems most likely to have been pushing around ink already on the plate. Of course why would an artist restrict himself to a purely additive or purely subtractive approach? The course projects break up the techniques, but presumably this is to ease the learning task. Degas is known for making ghost prints of his monotypes, and for painting and drawing over the prints. Above is a detail of Ballet Dancers, described on the National Gallery of Art website as “pastel and gouache over monotype”. A small version of the full image is shown on the left.
The detail above is where the underlying monotype seemed most visible, adding interest to what must be stage scenery on the left of the image. This layering of media is definitely something to try – if not as part of the projects, then in later sketchbook work.Degas also made landscape monotype prints using multiple colours and a huge variety of texture. There are areas that look more like a thin wash – I wonder if Degas played with the viscosity of the ink. There is much less detail, I couldn’t identify any of those incised lines, but a wonderful sense of atmosphere and the many materials and textures in nature.
T1-MMT-P4 Research: Degas’ monotypes
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Research: Degas’ monotypes