On Tuesday night, guest writer Elaine Lloyd attended a conversation hosted by the Maison Francais with Isolde Pludermacher, a senior curator at the Musée d’Orsay. 

Beginning this upcoming Sunday and lasting until January 7, the highly anticipated Manet/Degas exhibition will be on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibit is traveling to New York from Paris’ Musée d’Orsay and includes the unprecedented arrival of Manet’s Olympia, shown for the first time in the US. 

Professor Thomas Dodman interviewed Isolde Pludermacher, a senior curator of the Manet/Degas exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay and Professor Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen of NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts at an event hosted by Columbia’s Maison Francaise on Tuesday. Pludermacher described the curation process of the exhibit in Paris and the narrative content of Manet/Degas, centering the complex relationship between the two painters, Edgar Degas and Claude Monet, as the focal point of the exhibition. 

Pludermacher began the conversation with a discussion of the prominent slash in the title of the exhibition. Does this slash unite or separate Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas? Pludermacher described the artists’ relationship as “enigmatic,” and used the slash to convey the complexities between them. 

However, the slash between ‘Manet’ and ‘Degas’ is far from just a symbolic device. Throughout the first room of the exhibition are several drawings, paintings, and engravings of Manet, created by Degas. One of such paintings is a portrait of Manet and his wife, with Manet lounging on his sofa on the left side of the canvas and his wife playing the piano on the right. But, one can see that the painting is cut to exclude Mrs. Manet’s profile. Apparently, Degas gave Manet this portrait as a gift, and Manet was thoroughly insulted by his depiction of Mrs. Manet; he even took the liberties to paint his own rendition of his wife at the piano with his corrections.

This is one of many indications to illustrate that there was nothing clear cut about the relationship between Manet and Degas. The final room of the exhibition also proves that point, featuring a portrait of Degas in his home. This portrait was taken after Manet’s premature death in 1883 from syphilis. It depicts Degas in his home surrounded by several pieces of hanging art, some of which are Manet’s works that Degas collected throughout his life. More importantly, one of the central works depicted is the very painting that Manet rejected. 

Manet and Degas’ interactions were filled with friendship and quarrels, envy and admiration, but which of these charged dynamics ultimately defines their relationship?

Pludermacher discussed a question about  the purpose of comparison. What do you get from an exhibition that compares multiple artists as opposed to the more popular solo exhibit? Pludermacher offered that the comparison between Manet and Degas is particularly powerful due to the fact that they were focused on the same style of art and never in artistic collaboration with one another. Their comparison not only reveals their ‘enigmatic’ relationship, but also further emphasizes the singularity of each artist in the process. 

For a further look into the works of Manet and Degas and their mysterious relationship, check out the Manet/Degas exhibition at the Met 5th Ave, which will be displayed from September 24 to January 7.

Jeune femme avec l’ibis via Wikimedia Commons