Suggesting the third dimension

Image (National Gallery):Edgar Degas (1834–1917) After the Bath, Woman drying herself Date between circa 1890 and circa 1895 Mediumpastel on wove paper mounted on millboardDimensions103.5 × 98.5 cm (40.7 × 38.7 in) National Gallery Current location room 44”

From the website of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam:

“Dish with Citrus Fruit

Currently on view

Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890), Paris, February-March 1887

oil on canvas, 21.5 cm x 27.5 cm

Credits (obliged to state): Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

In early 1887, Van Gogh experimented with thinned oil paint on an absorbent ground. This creates a matt, translucent effect. Van Gogh’s Dish with Citrus Fruit is an example of this technique, which is called peinture à l’essence.

If you look closely, you can see that the fruit and the background were painted with parallel lines and hatching. Van Gogh used his thinnest brushes for this purpose. Some strokes are less than half a millimetre wide.”

The late Mark Glazebrook wrote for The Spectator of 27.11.04:

“Degas was a conventional artist to begin with. It is well known that he relied strongly on drawing and on the time-honoured practice of the ébauche (monochromatic underpainting, normally in tones of brown), thereby deliberately disqualifying himself from the front line of the Impressionists’ light-enhancing, form-dissolving revolution. What this exhibition reveals is that, from the technical point of view, despite his traditionalist ethos, Degas became an obsessive experimentalist, to the point of eccentricity. He traced images again and again; he even used tracing paper as a support, by no means an ideal one, for layer after layer of pastel.

He was a draughtsman in the tradition of Holbein and Ingres and he developed an extraordinary capacity to make a pencil, charcoal or painted line suggest the third dimension. He found the medium of oil paint difficult to manage, preferring peinture à l’essence, in which the oil is drained from the paint on to blotting paper and then diluted with turpentine…”

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