Degas: Double Images And Distortion Essay, Research Paper
Degas: Double Images and Distortion
Upon first impression one might see a nude as merely the representation of sexual desire. This is true in the instance of the Venus Anadyom?ne painted by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (plate 1), a typical representation of the nude in the mid-to-late 1800?s. However, in the case of Edgar Degas, whose nudes are often sensually portrayed, the sexual nature of the nude is not the only message of the painting. Carol M. Armstrong said, ?the female nude has been linked … to what we call, inadequately, ?abstraction?: facture, the handling of paint per se, foregrounded as an obvious fact of the painting.? If this is true, then understanding the artist?s technique in painting his subject is just as important as understanding his subject. When looking at Degas? technique, one should recognize that the repetition of a familiar subject, the nude, was more than an exercise to him. Degas? style in his nudes represents his portrayal of the female body through his tendency for playing games with images and distortion.
The Tub (plate 2), painted in 1886 as part of a series of nudes, is representative of Degas?s tendency for distortion. The colors in this pastel are soft, but bright. At first glance, the woman in the painting looks ordinary; she looks like she is simply taking a bath. The colors and the soft lines of the pastels contribute to her initial appearance of normalcy; however, upon closer inspection her body begins to look strange. Unlike Ingres? Venus, the lines of the woman in The Tub are almost unnatural. Her right arm is bent at an awkward angle, and it appears much shorter than her left arm. Her left arm appears elongated because of this, and her left hand, because it is spread out, looks a lot like a paw. Her legs blend into her body because of the way Degas shaded them. He also twisted her feet under her, so that she looks like she is going to fall. The way she crouches looks animal-like, and it is from this crouch that one senses a feeling of discomfort. Whether the discomfort is supposed to be hers or ours is unclear, but it is nevertheless apparent in her crouch. This discomfort becomes part of the undertone of the painting, and what at first may have seemed to be an image of an ordinary woman, becomes its antithesis.