Exhibition of the Month: The Beauty of Degas’ Printmaking

Not only was Edgar Degas (1834-1917) both one of the greatest painters and greatest draftsmen of the 19th century but he was also an experimenter with art materials and a master of monotype printmaking. “Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty,” an exhibition on view until July 24 at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, reveals the depth of his achievements in this medium. This exhibition of Degas’ printmaking is Drawing’s exhibition of the month for April.

Edgar Degas | Three Ballet Dancers | Artist's Network

Three Ballet Dancers, by Edgar Degas, ca. 1878-1880, monotype on cream laid paper, 7 13/16 x 16 3/8. Collection Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. All artwork this article courtesy Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York.

The monotype process involves drawing in black ink on a metal plate that was then run through a press, typically resulting in a single print. Captivated by the medium’s potential, Degas made more than 300 monotypes during two discrete bursts of activity, from the mid-1870s to the mid-1880s, and again during the early 1890s.

Taking the medium to new and radical ends, Degas abandoned the academic drawing of his youth, inventing a new repertoire of mark-making that included wiping, scraping, scratching, fingerprinting, and rendering via removal. Enigmatic and mutable forms, luminous passages emerging from deep blackness, and a heightened sense of tactility characterize the resulting works. The freedom Degas found in such techniques is an important theme of the exhibition, and the presentation links his efforts in monotype—the way he moves the printer’s ink with ease across the slick metal plate, resulting in a more liberated form of description—to works in other mediums.

Below you’ll see a sample of Degas’ printmaking – a small portion of the roughly 200 artworks on view in “A Strange New Beauty.” We hope you enjoy these strange and luminous images and get a chance to see the show if you’re in New York this spring. To stay up to date with the best drawing-related exhibitions and events, be sure to subscribe to Drawing.

Edgar Degas | Dancer Onstage with a Bouquet | Artist's Network

Dancer Onstage with a Bouquet, by Edgar Degas, ca. 1876, pastel over monotype on laid paper, 10 5/8 x 14 7/8. Private collection.

Edgar Degas | Pauline and Virginie Conversing with Admirers | Artist's Network

Pauline and Virginie Conversing with Admirers, by Edgar Degas, ca. 1876–1877, monotype, 8 7/16 x 6 5/16. Collection Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Edgar Degas | Landscape with Rocks | Artist's Network

Landscape With Rocks, by Edgar Degas, 1892, pastel over monotype in oil on wove paper, 10 1/8 × 13 9/16. Collection High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia.

Edgar Degas | Woman Reading | Artist's Network

Woman Reading, by Edgar Degas, ca. 1880–85, monotype, 14 15/16 x 10 7/8. Collection National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Edgar Degas | Installation View | Artist's Network

Installation view of “Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty” at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (March 22-July 24, 2016). Photo by Martin Seck. © 2015 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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