Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
My study of Edgar Degas provides an arena for the examination of how artistic production can elucidate the complexities of cultural diversity, particularly through the evolution of artistic identity through overlapping cultural influences. Previous scholarship on Degas has been mainly Francophile in orientation, while my work focuses on the parameters of artistic reciprocity between Degas and nineteenth-century Italian art, artists and critics. Degas spent the majority of his formative years (July 1856-April 1860) traveling and studying in Italy, with extended periods in Rome, Naples and Florence. He actively sketched after the Italian Renaissance masters, participated in life drawing sessions at the Villa Medici, and partook in artistic exchange through friendships established in the social atmosphere of cafés. Familial bonds, through blood and marriage, to Naples and Florence provided Degas with additional ties to the peninsula. His camaraderie with Italian artists and critics did not end upon his return to Paris. Rather, these Italian artists became a vital part of Degas' social circle, with whom he travelled, dined, and participated in a variety of artistic exchanges. These exchanges fundamentally impacted Degas' oeuvre, as well as those of the Italians. Exploring Degas' connections with the art community of Italy allows a reevaluation of the traditional understanding of Degas as a French artist. It focuses attention on the impact that Italian aesthetics had on the formation of Degas' style which has been historically understood as tied to Parisian modernism.
Degas provides a unique opportunity to study the impact of multicultural influences arising from his attention to the artistic methodology of the French Academy, his Italian lineage and his role as a French tourist and artist in Italy. Finding the structure of the École too constrictive and instead preferring to forge a parallel route to Academicism, Degas traveled to the peninsula outside of the sphere of the French Academy. He relied on a shared language, culture and familial connections to remain abroad longer and travel more extensively than many of his contemporaries. As a result Degas is much more rooted in the Italian culture than any of his French contemporaries. The many dimensions and experiences of Degas' Italian sojourn affected the burgeoning career of an artist who intended to join the ranks of the history painters, and instead found himself a critical observer of contemporary life. What I elucidate in this dissertation is how deeply rooted Degas is in the language, cultures and history of Italy. These unbreakable ties, the many aspects of the Italian cultures in which he feels at home are absorbed and brought back to Paris and into his oeuvre. This study seeks to demonstrate that Degas was neither wholly French nor Italian (or for that matter, American), rather his multiple dimensions make for an international, truly cosmopolitan artist in the second half of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, I engage and explore the social and artistic relationships of a group of artists who were acutely aware of the pressures of nationalism and the boundaries of nations, but while conceding to these realities, did not want to be limited by such demarcations. This reading of the evidence allows for a more meaningful investigation of the modalities of the formation of artistic identity and dialogue in the nineteenth century.
Copyright 2010 Claire Louise Kovacs