Bronzes Schmonzes

Even Degas had his doubts about their artistic value

More than half the sculptures in the show feature dancers in various poses, while most of the remaining works fall into the categories of "horses" and "other," such as women bathing or otherwise engaged in their toilette. These are accompanied by a trio of busts, one of which seems (to me, anyway) to anticipate Jacques Lipchitz's famous 1920 bust of Gertrude Stein; The Masseuse, a rare sculpture of two figures; a case containing a sort of tableau of apple pickers; and a remarkable portrait of a bather in a tub. The sculptures are supplemented by a handful of Degas works on paper — a nice touch.

Lest it seem I'm being unduly harsh, consider that Degas himself clearly had significant misgivings about his work as a sculptor — or at least about how that work was interpreted. In an account of an encounter with the French journalist François Thiébault-Sisson, the artist corrected the writer's assertion that "you are as much a sculptor as a painter, more so perhaps."

"Not at all!" Degas exclaimed. "The only reason that I made wax figures of animals and humans was for my own satisfaction, not to take time off from painting or drawing, but in order to give my paintings and drawings greater expression, greater ardor, and more life. They are exercises to get me going: documentary, preparatory motions, nothing more. None of this is intended for sale."

You have your dancers, your bathers, your horses, and one little girl, who looks at her right foot.
You have your dancers, your bathers, your horses, and one little girl, who looks at her right foot.

Details

"Degas in Bronze: The Complete Sculptures" On display through April 27 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton; call 561-392-2500.

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Artists aren't always the best judges of their own work, but in this case I'll let the master have the last word: "From this day forward until my death," Degas concluded, "this will all be destroyed by itself and this will be best for my reputation."

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