Degas at the Opera

I visited Paris over the Halloween weekend, and one of my stops throughout the city was the Musée d’Orsay. This museum is in a beautiful building that was previously a train station built in 1900, which now houses mostly French art from the late 1800s and early 1900s. To my delight, I found that the museum offers free entry on the first Sunday of every month, making an already relatively cheap venue even more accessible.

The museum houses classic artwork by Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir, and Monet, pieces which were exciting to see even if they were being looked at through dozens of phone cameras. An even greater realisation was that the resident exhibit at the d’Orsay, ‘Degas à l’Opéra’, was also free. The exhibition will run until 19th January 2020 and focuses on Degas’ obsession with the Opera. Degas is known for his work around the theatre and has explored dance studios, stages, auditoriums, and audiences in his paintings. He has also featured a multitude of people in these locations, from dancers and singers to musicians playing alongside the ballets.

The use of space in the exhibition made sense but at times was a little jilting, as it was at times unclear which way the chosen pieces were meant to flow. It was exciting to see art forms beyond just paintings – model stage sets, and paintings of staging plans were scattered amongst Degas’ work, and it was fascinating to see the steps taken to bring scenery to life, and how Degas chose to depict this in his work further. One of my favourite additions to the exhibit was a large model of a theatre, split in half and spread out along one wall so that spectators could look inside its workings. The stage is a fascinating place, but it is also interesting to see how the spaces behind the scenes are used, and what the public wouldn’t have noticed.

I’d seen a lot of Degas’ work before entering the d’Orsay, and while it was lovely to see, nothing really surprised me. What’s special, and less available to the public, is getting to see early sketches of what later became famous paintings. Overall, I did feel incredibly inspired by the experience of walking through the exhibit, particularly as quotes by Degas about art were scattered across the walls. 

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Ellie Robson

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January 2022
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