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Henri Loyrette: A Passion for Degas

Published on , by Annick Colonna-Césari

The man who was once director of the Musée d’Orsay then president and director of the Louvre is also one of the most eminent Edgar Degas specialists. The curator of the exhibition on the artist's connections with the Paris Opera, as part of its 350th anniversary, he talks to us about the reasons for this choice.

Henri Loyrette Henri Loyrette: A Passion for Degas
Henri Loyrette
© Sophie Crépy, Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Many exhibitions have highlighted Degas' fascination with the dance world. However, none have focused on the more general aspect of the Opera. What did it represent for the artist? It was his absolute focus, from his early pieces to the last works he produced, in around 1900. But exhibitions have always focused on the "painter of dancers" because those works were the ones that made him successful in his lifetime. So the role played by the Paris Opera as a whole was soon forgotten. Yet Degas was extremely familiar with that world. He was firstly a frequent visitor at the Rue Le Peletier studio, until it burned down in 1873, then at the Palais Garnier, inaugurated in 1875. In his work he explored the various areas – the stage, the boxes, the balcony, the studio and the rehearsal rooms – and studied the people who used them: ballerinas, musicians, singers and regular audience members prowling about backstage. All in all, his scenes at the Opera make up over 40% of his output. The first piece was exhibited at the Salon of 1868. It shows a prima ballerina of the time, Eugénie Fiocre, in a scene from the ballet La Source , by Léon…
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