Exhibition On Screen, the pioneering series of cinematic films about exhibitions, galleries and artists, returns for a sixth season with Degas: Passion for Perfection, in 240 cinemas in the UK alone (and 62 countries worldwide) from 6 November.
Directed by David Bickerstaff, the film offers a unique insight into Degas’ personal and creative life, looking at his relationship with the Impressionist movement, fascination with dance, and struggle with his eyesight, which in time would prevent him making art altogether. Uncovered is the story of his obsessive pursuit for perfection both through experimentation with new techniques and the study of past masters, including Italian Renaissance artists and near contemporaries such as Ingres and Delacroix. French historian Daniel Halévy describes the artist as: “Always working, searching, almost always dissatisfied, he kept the greater part his art hidden in boxes out of which he scarcely ever took anything…except what he was forced to sell to enable him to live.”
Throughout the film Degas’ search for excellence is made clear through multiple iterations of compositions and obsessive reworking of artworks, sometimes even asking for paintings back from buyers to continue working on them. He created a great number of statuettes but never let them go further than wax or clay, explaining that he couldn’t leave anything behind him in bronze because “metal was for eternity”. The art dealer Ambroise Vollard recounted how Degas showed him a dancer he had created for the twentieth time, and exclaimed: “I wouldn’t take a bucket of gold for the pleasure I had in destroying it and beginning over again.”
Upon his death in 1917, more than 150 pieces of sculpture were found in his studio, made from wax, clay and plasticine. Of those that survived, The Fitzwilliam Museum is the only establishment in the UK to hold examples of these rare and extremely fragile works.
Phil Grabsky, executive producer of Exhibition On Screen, comments: “Edgar Degas is one of the greats of modern art and yet little is known apart from his paintings of young ballet dancers, and certainly often misunderstood. For his contemporaries he was a giant – but a giant that preferred to stay in the shadows. The recent fabulous exhibition on his life at The Fitzwilliam Museum allows this new film to reveal just who Degas was and why he is so significant.”