In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

264 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 ings are partially constituted and defined by these contexts.' Moreover, these devotional writings also explicitly state theological and aesthetic principles that shed new light on Rossetti's entire poetic canon, nondevotional as well as devotional. Indeed, this excellent selection of Rossetti's prose demonstrates the desirability of a new edition of the complete prose. (MARY ARSENEAU). Jean Sutherland Boggs. Degas: At the Races National Gallery of Art and Yale University Press. 272. 144 colour, 149 b&w illus. us $50.00 In the present day, it's hard not to feel that the Impressionists, Degas among them, have been massively over-laundered. In the great ' art museums, the turnstile is now the highest arbiter of success. What could be more promising in this regard than an exhibit uniting one of the founders of Impressionism with the most refined and glamorous of sports? Art historians, too, have scarcely neglected Degas. On the contrary, a new generation of revisionists have applied to his nudes, laundresses, and dancers all the resources of their dark science. Under the circumstances, We may be forgiven for asking whether there is anything significant about Degas further to discover. The answer, resoundingly, is yes. Degas: At the Races is the illustrated catalogue of an exhibition at the National Gallery ofArt in Washington. The distinguished art historian Jean Sutherland Boggs served as guest curator and principal author, and it is to her we must credit the exhibition's singular accomplishment: to an extent heretofore unrecognized, Degas was obsessed by horses and their representation. Accordingly, any full understanding of Degas's art must in some way make sense of an obsession that spanned Degas's career. In 1866, Degas placed a jumping horse at the centre of his Fallen Jockey, an ambitiously scaled figure painting intended to rival Manet's Luncheon on the Grass. That effort failed, but over the next three decades Degas went on to produce hundreds ofstudies, sketches, and finished pictures of horses and their riders. He also produced sculptures of horses. Indeed it's not too much to say that his revolutionary intervention in the field ofsculpture was partly driven by his interest in equine anatomy and motion. Why horses? As Boggs suggests, Degas was partly driven by his own emulation. In nineteenth-century France, it was widely felt that the complexities of equine representation presented a formidable technical challenge that no ambitious history painter could afford to ignore. Beyond the obvious examples of Gericault and Delacroix, we might also cite such contemporary specialists as Carle and .Horace Vernet, Rosa Bonheur, Eugene Fromentin, and Ernest Meissonier, all of whom assigned a central HUMANITIES 265 place to the horse in their practice as figure painters. At the same time, the horse offered Degas ideal terrain for his systematic exploration of the living body. Indeed Degas's equine representations could be said to have paralleled his interest in the actions of dancers and latmdresses. What the horse offered Degas was something like another kind ofbody - a body, if not quite gender-free, at least without human gender. The conclusion we should draw is that Degas's corporeal aesthetics sometimes operated outside the eroticized terrain of the beholder's gaze and the representation of the female nude. Like many painters of his time, Degas also treated problems of equine locomotion. In Degas's case the horse in motion served as an Impressionist litmus test - a temporal phenomenon that posed a high challenge to the painter's powers of observation. But Degas'S observations proved wrong. Like many painters of his day, he was impressed by Eadweard Muybridge's instantaneous photographs of animal locomotion, which circulated widely in Europe in the 1870S and 18805. Muybridge's stills established that while all four legs of a galloping horse did indeed leave the grotmd, at no point did they extend away from each other in the fashion of what we now term the flying gallop, -a pose Degas routinely used in his drawings and paintings of the 18605 and 1870S. Degas struggled with this new understanding : Boggs isolates numerous examples of Degas engaged in the awkward task of adapting his representations to the photographic evidence. Here was equine motion...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 264-265
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.