The obsessively creative Edgar Degas experimented with drawing, printmaking, painting, photography and sculpture.
The witty artist often gathered with other Impressionists in Parisian cafes where he relished the lively conversations about how to best portray modern life. But unlike his colleagues, Degas was not interested in capturing shifting light, landscapes or working outdoors.
Instead, his subjects included bathers, ballet dancers, jockeys, laundresses, milliners and cafe singers. He never married, saw his family members as a distraction from his pursuits and did not care whether the general public or the critics liked his work, said Sarah Hall, curator of The Frick Pittsburgh.
A collection of his etchings and photographs and other works on paper opens to the public Saturday at The Frick Pittsburgh in Point Breeze. “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist” features works on paper by him plus drawings, paintings and photographs produced by a wide circle of 14 contemporaries, friends and even former friends. The show, which runs through Oct. 5, includes works by Mary Cassatt, Paul Cezanne, Honore Daumier, Edouard Manet, Gustave Moreau, Camille Pissarro and James Tissot.
Some of the prints, including an arresting self-portrait, bear vertical cancellation marks. That‘s because in 1910, Degas scratched across the metal plates before selling them to Ambrose Vollard, an art dealer who represented him. Vollard made more prints from the etchings. Even canceled Degas etchings are rare so they can sell for thousands of dollars, Ms. Hall said.
The first image in the show is a black-and-white photograph Degas made of himself in 1895. The second is a strong self-portrait. Born in Paris into an aristocratic, cultured family of bankers, Degas was 13 when his American mother, a Creole, died at the age of 32 in 1847. At his father’s insistence, he attended law school. But in 1855, he met the artist he idolized -- Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres -- traded in his textbooks for an easel and enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux Arts.
After a year of study, Degas traveled to Italy in 1856 and stayed with a branch of his father’s family there for three years. He drew likenesses of his father’s relatives and studied the work of Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian and other Renaissance artists. In Rome, he met Gustave Moreau, a French symbolist painter who became his mentor and encouraged him to study the works of Delacroix. Degas returned to Paris in 1859.
During the early 1860s, while copying and studying Old Masters such as Ingres and Jacques Louis David at the Louvre museum, he met Manet. The artist encouraged him to exhibit his first modern subject, “Steeplechase: The Fallen Jockey,” at the salon of 1866.
Degas maintained a 40-year friendship with Cassatt, an Impressionist and Pittsburgh native with whom he shared a passion for art and a conservative, upper-class view of the world. He taught Cassatt how to make prints. But even their fruitful relationship was marked by quarrels and periods of estrangement partly because Degas had an argumentative, prickly temperament.
In the 1880s, after Degas took up photography, one of his acquaintances remarked that an evening with the artist and his camera required “two hours of military obedience.” A photograph he took in 1897 evokes the simple pleasure of recreation. It shows his brother Rene and French composers Ernest Chausson and Claude Debussy standing on a riverbank. Seated in a nearby boat is Madame Eugene Rouart. The scene is titled “Preparing to Go Rowing.”
While most of the works in this show were collected over 40 years by art historian Robert Flynn Johnson, the Frick has augmented it with works from its collection. In the Jacobean Room, there is a Claude Monet painting of the Seine River, a painting and two drawings by Jean- Francoise Rafaelli and a dramatic sculpture by Antoine Barye, all worth seeing.
Mr. Johnson, curator emeritus of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, discusses his long quest to collect the works of Degas on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Frick. Reservations are required for the program.
Marylynne Pitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1648.