Manet/Degas, friends and rivals, on show at the MET in New York
Opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 24 September 2023, Manet/Degas examines one of the most significant artistic dialogues in the genesis of modern art.
Born only two years apart, Édouard Manet (1832-1883) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917) were friends, rivals and, at times, antagonists whose work shaped the development of modernist painting in France.
By examining the ways in which their careers intersected and presenting their works side by side, this exhibition investigates how their artistic goals and approaches overlapped and even diverged.
Through 160 paintings and works on paper, Manet/Degas takes a fresh look at the interactions of these two artists in the context of family relationships, friendships, intellectual circles and socio-political events that influenced their artistic and professional choices, deepening our understanding of a key moment in the 19th century.
“Manet and Degas produced some of the most provocative and admired images in Western art,” said Max Hollein, The Met’s Marina Kellen French Director and CEO. “Anchored by the unparalleled holdings of their work in the collections of The Met and the Musée d’Orsay, in addition to incredible loans from more than 50 other institutions and individual collectors, this exhibition offers a riveting new perspective on the storied pair of artists.”
Stephan Wolohojian, exhibition co-curator, said, “While little written correspondence between Manet and Degas survives, their artistic output speaks volumes about how these major artists defined themselves with and against each other. This expansive dossier exhibition is a unique chance to assess their fascinating relationship through a dialogue between their work.”
Manet/Degas is organised chronologically and thematically in thirteen sections. The exhibition begins with a look at the years of the two painters’ artistic training and copying practices, influenced by their mutual respect for the works of the great European artists of the past.
The exhibition addresses the central importance of the annual Salon as a testing ground and public stage for both artists – which remained vital for Manet, but which Degas eventually abandoned – and the ways in which each artist confronted and challenged the prevailing hierarchy of genres. The Salon of 1865, in particular, marked a turning point: Manet presented his daring Olympia, while Degas’ first history painting, Scene of War in the Middle Ages, went unnoticed. However, another Degas work from that year, A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers, indicated a new direction for the artist.
The portrait was an important genre for Manet and Degas who, through a rich pictorial dialogue, expanded its formal conventions and iconographic complexity. Several sections with portraits reveal the lively Parisian environment in which the two artists lived and worked, providing a context for the relationships that influenced them.
A section devoted to wartime sheds light on how the artists dealt with the American Civil War and its aftermath, as well as their reactions to the Franco-Prussian War, during which they defended Paris as members of the National Guard.
Another gallery focuses on their relationship with Impressionism. While Degas played a leading role in organising the independent, jury-free exhibitions that became known as Impressionist exhibitions, Manet refused to participate in them; however, he went further than Degas in exploring the plein-air aesthetics associated with the movement.
In their search for new subjects, both artists turned to modern Paris, depicting scenes of leisure and entertainment at the ballet, theatre and horse races, but also the work and alienation of urban life.
In works that address the private sphere, the artists recreate and transgress the threshold of the picture plane in scenes of toilets, brothels and bathers.
The exhibition concludes by examining how the relationship between the artists extended beyond Manet’s untimely death in 1883. Bringing together Manet’s works that Degas acquired for his own collection, the section offers a moving illustration of the personal and professional relationship of the two artists.
Works on display
Among the most important loans in the exhibition are Manet’s groundbreaking Olympia, which will make its first trip to the United States, and Degas’ recently restored Family Portrait (The Bellelli Family) from the Musée d’Orsay.
Four Manet drawings by Degas, two from the Musée d’Orsay and two from the Met, will be brought together with rare related etchings. They will be exhibited alongside Monsieur and Madame Édouard Manet by Degas (Kitakyushu Municipal Museum).
Integral pairings of works by the two artists, which show their treatment of similar subjects from modern life, include Degas’ In a Café (The Absinthe Drinker) (Musée d’Orsay) and Manet’s Plum Brandy (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.), as well as Manet’s The Races at Longchamp (Art Institute of Chicago) and Degas’ Racehorses before the Stands (Musée d’Orsay).
The exhibition presents many works that were already in Degas’ collection, including Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian (The National Gallery, London), which was methodically reassembled by Degas after being cut into pieces and dispersed upon Manet’s death.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. Published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, it is available for purchase from the Met Store or directly here online.
Manet/Degas is organised by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie in Paris. The exhibition will be on view from 24 September 2023 to 7 January 2024. For further information on visiting hours and tickets, please visit the museum’s official website.