To mark the centenary of Edgar Degas' death, the Musée d'Orsay in Paris is paying tribute to him in an exhibition where the main theme is the little-known work of writer, poet and thinker Paul Valéry.
To mark the centenary of Edgar Degas' death, the Musée d'Orsay in Paris is paying tribute to him in an exhibition where the main theme is the little-known work of writer, poet and thinker Paul Valéry, completed in 1936, twenty years after the artist died. Neither a biography nor an exegesis of art history, "Degas Danse Dessin" is a polyphonic text oscillating between the poet's memories, philosophical digressions and aesthetic considerations. The fragmented style of the writing is also found in the exhibition circuit. In a muted atmosphere, drawings, pastels, wax models and paintings reflect the text and its three themes. Drawing, dance and horses sum up the transformation from line to stroke, from form to movement. Through groups of studies that are rarely exhibited, because they are fragile, repetitive and physically distant (in the reserves of the Louvre's graphic arts department, not the Orsay's), the exhibition brings out a resonance in drawings where the artist has endlessly corrected, rubbed out and retouched his work. In this respect, we can see to what extent Degas was interested in mechanics rather than completion. He drew not to show, but to know, in just the same way Valery approached writing. "When Paul Valéry looked at Degas, he was looking at himself, in a way," whispers the curator, Marine Kisiel. With this exhibition, consistent with its aim to highlight links between the arts, the Orsay lays a new stone in the edifice of interdisciplinary dialogue – even if we were expecting something different for the centenary of the artist's death from the museum with a reference Degas collection.