Degas: Passion for Perfection

Season 6 opens with Degas. Having chalked up films on Manet, Monet and Renoir, the excellent Exhibition on Screen series now moves on to the fourth great pillar of French impressionism: Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, aka Edgar Degas.

Art is not a matter of what you see, but what you make other people see.
Edgar Degas

Sometimes frustrated by his own failings, Degas was consumed by obsessive principles and failing eyesight but his determination to capture everyday life was evident in every mark he made. Never fully satisfied, many of Degas’ drawings and sculptures were kept in private during his lifetime but, now through close examination, they can be seen as some of the most beautifully detailed and expressive works in the modern era.

The subtitle – of the original show, as well as the film – was picked to show Degas’ differences from the traditional idea of the dashed-off, hazy-visual nature of impressionism. With his admiration of the classical canon, his insistence on mastering drawing technique, and his refusal to paint outdoors, much is made of the case to treat Degas as an outlier in the movement.

Using written accounts by friends and commentators, and the narration of letters written by Degas himself, this film reveals a more complex truth behind one of the most influential French artists of the late 19th-century and serves as an exploration of the complex workings of Degas’ artistic mind. The film journeys from the streets of Paris to the heart of a superb exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, whose extensive collection of Degas’ works is the most representative in Britain.

UK 2019, 89 min, rated G
Directed by David Bickerstaff

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