Visualising interior space

Degas at the Royal Academy

Within the excellent new exhibition, Degas and the Ballet, at the Royal Academy there is a wall describing the way a series of his interiors were directly affected by the new photographic technique of panoramic photography. He painted and drew these interior views at the same size and format as the popular photographic views (approx 50cm x 20cm). It seems he may have liked the inherent action of movement in viewing these, as one scans from side to side. The distortion apparent in such photography is also somewhat assimilated in his art, another method to flatten and abstract the space, perspective loses any strict rules. In addition there is his play on 'photographic' composition - large areas of floor, truncated figures, strange edges and the apparent invisibility of the artist - that 'moment'.

While he was fascinated by the latest photographic techniques and experimented himself, his own paintings and pastels could not have been rendered photographically, neither the exposure nor the movement nor the depth of field nor the angles of view could have been achieved with cameras of that period. Cameras became metaphors for the experience of sight. What the show makes clear is that he was an artist who explored how we see.

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