EXHIBITION ON SCREEN, the pioneering series of cinematic films about exhibitions, galleries and artists returns for a sixth season with Degas: Passion for Perfection, in cinemas across Australia from 6 June 2019. Directed by David Bickerstaff, the film journeys from a superb exhibition at The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, where the UK’s most extensive Degas collection is held, to Paris and Italy, where Degas spent his formative years and taught himself to paint.
DEGAS : PASSION FOR PERFECTION offers a unique insight into Degas’ personal and creative life, looking at his relationship with the impressionist movement, fascination with dance, and struggle with his eyesight, which in time would prevent him from making art altogether.
The film uncovers the fascinating story of his obsessive pursuit for perfection both through experimentation with new techniques and the study of past masters, including Italian Renaissance artists and near-contemporaries such as Ingres and Delacroix.
French historian Daniel Halévy describes the artist as: “Always working, searching, almost always dissatisfied, he kept the greater part of his art hidden in boxes out of which he scarcely ever took anything…except what he was forced to sell to enable him to live.”
Throughout the film Degas’ search for excellence is made clear through multiple iterations of compositions and obsessive reworking of artworks, sometimes even asking for paintings back from buyers to continue working on them.
Jane Munro, Keeper of Paintings at The Fitzwilliam Museum, says: “Degas was more interested in process than the end result”.
Degas created a great number of statuettes but never let them go further than wax or clay, explaining that he couldn’t leave anything behind him in bronze because “metal was for eternity”. The art dealer Ambroise Vollard recounted how Degas showed him a dancer he had created for the twentieth time, and exclaimed: “I wouldn’t take a bucket of gold for the pleasure I had in destroying it and beginning over again.” Upon his death in 1917, more than 150 pieces of sculpture were found in his studio, made from wax, clay and plasticine. Of those that survived, The Fitzwilliam Museum is the only establishment in the UK to hold examples of these rare and extremely fragile works.
Along with close-up views of Degas’ work, written accounts by friends and commentators and letters by Degas himself reveal the complex inner workings of one of France’s most influential artists.