Sunday, May 15, 2011

An Homage to Degas

Pondering Degas
30 x 40

A Woman Seated Beside a Vase of Flowers

Some paintings are special. I keep coming back to them, studying brushwork, colour harmony and composition to see what it is that makes them stand above the ordinary. If I'm lucky, these paintings have been done by me at some point in the past when I was immersed it that wonderful paint zone in which nothing goes wrong and each mark is confident. Usually, however, they have been done by others. Then they become the standard for me to aim for.
My favourite Degas painting is one of these magical ones: "A Woman Seated Beside a Vase of Flowers" which is in the Metropolitan Museum in NY, makes me overwhelmingly happy whenever I see it. I love the unorthodox composition which has a woman placed at the edge of the canvas and peering out of its frame. Both of these facts are no no's according to the many books which state compositional rules - and yet it works. Degas keeps the viewer's eye from following her eyes out of the canvas through the use of the bright door frame edge above her head, and allows us to appreciate her by making her figure simple and calm next to the extravagant, highly-detailed flowers beside her. I love the way that he linked her to the bouquet by echoing the flowers' forms in her ruffled cap and blouse front. Though she is simply painted in comparison to the flowers, Degas managed to make her the the most important subject in the frame. Is this because we naturally look at people with greater interest than objects, or because of the way that he led our eye to her, framing her with the architecture around her, and even punctuating her head with the tower in the painting behind her? The more that I look at this piece, the more complex it becomes.
Because I couldn't get it out of my head, I decided to paint an homage to it. I set up a huge bouquet and roughed it in, and then hired a model, Susen, to sit for the figure. Susen was actually the reason that I plunged in and decided to paint this in the first place, because she has an inward gaze and stillness that seemed just right. She wore a wine-coloured cloche and a lightweight blouse with embroidery around the neckline and these elements led me to enhance the deep reds in the bouquet and use them as a link to her figure. I deviated from the original by adding a dark drape at the front of the table to lead the eye in and by placing a stalk of light flowers to beside her head as a visual stopper instead of a doorway.
It's not Degas - the Met wouldn't sell - but it makes me happy and carries both the original and the new within it.

6 comments:

Inger in Norway said...

Both pictures are wonderful . One wonder what the women are thinking about - may be the man(?) who gave them the flowers - or how they are going to pay the bills..

Ann Rogers said...

Spectacular!

Ingrid Christensen said...

Thanks for these wonderful words! Inger, I think that she's having a well-earned rest and planning an enjoyable next step.
There is something a bit calculating in her thoughtfulness.

Shirley Fachilla said...

I could not resist the title of your post. I, too, love Degas, love his compostitions which are still immensely daring, and love this particular Degas painting. When I saw yours, I knew immediately which Degas was your inspiration even before I scrolled down to see it.
Your painting is truly wonderful. And it's always wonderful to meet someone else who pays hommage to Degas.

Ingrid Christensen said...

It's great to hear from another Degas fan, Shirley. Thanks for the kind comments.

Chris Open said...

Really interesting. Lovely painting. I will have to try an homage one day. Your painting is quite decorative* - reminds me a bit of Bonnard & Vuillard. (*that's a good thing!)
Chris.