Manet / Degas
A comparison of artists as crucial as Manet and Degas should not be limited to identifying the similarities in their respective bodies of work. Admittedly, there is no lack of analogies among these key players in the new painting of the 1860s-80s when it comes to the subjects they imposed (from horse races to café scenes, from prostitution to the tub), the genres they reinvented, the realism they opened to other formal and narrative potentialities, the market and the collectors they managed to tame, and the places (cafés, theaters) and circles, whether comprised of family (Berthe Morisot) or friends, where they crossed paths.
Before and after the birth of Impressionism, which the exhibition looks at in a new light, what differentiated or opposed them is even more striking. From dissimilar backgrounds and with different temperaments, they did not share the same tastes in literature and music. Their divergent choices in terms of exhibitions and career cooled the budding friendship that bound them from 1873-1874 – a friendship strengthened by their shared experience of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and the aftermath of the Commune. The quest for recognition of the former with the stubborn refusal of the latter to use the official channels of legitimization defy comparison. While, if we consider the private sphere, once the years of youth were over, everything divided them. Manet's sociability, which was very open and soon quite brilliant, and his domestic choices were matched by Degas' secret existence and his restricted entourage.
In Degas, Danse, Dessin, where Manet is much talked about, Paul Valéry speaks of these "marvelous coexistences" that border on dissonant chords. By bringing Manet and Degas together in the light of their contrasts, and showing how much they defined each other by differentiating themselves, this exhibition, rich with masterpieces never before brought together and an unprecedented partnership, forces us to take a new look at the ephemeral bond and lasting rivalry of two giants. The exhibition circuit also highlights the conflicting, heterogeneous and unforeseen aspects of pictorial modernity, at its point of emergence, its rise and its subsequent success. Finally, it shows the true value of Degas’ art collection, in which Manet took a more and more commanding place following his death. Death had reconciled them.
This exhibition is organized by the Musée d'Orsay and the Musée de l'Orangerie and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York where it will be presented from September 2023 to January 2024.