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Edgar Degas: Japanese Art

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One renowned artist of the Impressionist era that was fond of Japanese art was Edgar Degas. Degas was not one to hide his love for Japanese prints; as Ives stated “when his personal print collection was sold in 1918, it included over a hundred Japanese woodcuts and albums by Utamaro, Hokusai, Hiroshige, Kiyonaga, Toyokuni, and other Ukiyo-e masters,” (Ives 34). Despite Degas’s extensive collection, he was not prone to integrate Japanese objects into his work. However, Degas still managed to pay homage to Eastern art with his newfound taste towards subtle line use, daring foreshortenings, and unusual organization of space (Ives 35).
Like Japanese printmakers of the eighteenth-century, Degas focused on women as his subject for majority of his career. Degas was “captivated by the spontaneous, natural positions into which the most ordinary women’s bodies move” (Ives 35) and he preferred women of everyday life such as ballerinas over famed queens. In his piece The Two Dancers (Figure 4), Degas looked towards Harunobu’s print Young Man Greeted by a Woman Writing a
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In 1890, he travelled to the village of Diénay where he set to work on a series of landscape monotypes. For inspiration, Degas turned to the color woodcut Asuma Shrine and the Entwined Camphor by Utagawa Hiroshige (Figure 7). In one of Degas’ renditions, “he accented- or attempted to cover- the irregular tide-line of his runny paints with pink pastel and used the same pink to color broader areas,” (Rassieur 430). He also “activated the horizon line with a tangle of chevron-shaped or zigzag strokes and dots of black chalk,” (Rassieur 430). When you look at both Degas’ landscape as well as Hiroshige’s, it is easy to see their similarities. Similar color palettes are used as well as subject matter. Degas was a painter that expressed himself best in line and color, therefore, it is simple to discern why he was so drawn to Ukiyo-e woodcuts (Ives
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