Glasgow's Burrell Collection to host major exhibition for artist Edgar Degas

A new exhibition of works by one of the world's most revered artists, Edgar Degas, will open at The Burrell Collection
-Credit: (Image: SNS)

One of Glasgow's top museums is hosting a major exhibition of artist Edgar Degas this week.

It will be the first major exhibition at the Burrell Collection since it reopened in 2022 after a £68 million refurbishment and will feature the works of the famous Impressionist.

Opening on Friday, May 24, the event will include the collection of shipbuilding magnate Sir William Burrell, who bought his first Degas painting in the early 1890s and accumulated a total of 23 artworks before his death in 1958, when they were donated to the city of Glasgow with the creation of the Burrell Collection.

Sir William collected more Degas artworks than any other British collector and the exhibition, Discovering Degas: Collecting In The Time Of Sir William Burrell is the first-time visitors can see all 22 Degas works from Burrell's original collection displayed together, alongside 28 further world-class paintings, works on paper and sculptures from other museums.

Ruby (18) Eva (13) and Zoe (13) from Jazzart College of Performing Art pose in front of the painting A Group of Dancers, on loan from National Galleries of Scotland.
Ruby (18) Eva (13) and Zoe (13) from Jazzart College of Performing Art pose in front of the painting A Group of Dancers, on loan from National Galleries of Scotland. -Credit:Craig Foy / SNS

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Expected to draw international attention, the event has taken three years of planning to put together following discussions around lighting and humidity with the 13 other institutions which also loaned artworks.

Best known for his depictions of dancers, Degas studied working-class Parisians until his death in 1917, when his paintings and sculptures gained more widespread recognition.

Pastel sketches of Ukrainian folk dancers stamping and kicking show Degas's interest in movement and he also studied horse-racing, circus performers and laundry workers.

Ballet is the most popular subject in Degas's art and is what he is best known for today.
Ballet is the most popular subject in Degas's art and is what he is best known for today. -Credit:Craig Foy / SNS

A controversial painting, L'Absinthe (1896), shows a couple suffering from a hangover from the addictive hallucinogen absinthe, which gripped Paris in the early 20th century, and caused uproar in the British press at the time.

The exhibition explains how art dealer Alex Reid promoted Degas in his Glasgow city centre gallery, Le Salon Des Beaux Arts, drawing attention from Sir William, and includes a portrait of Reid by Vincent van Gogh, who he lived with in Paris.

Professor Frances Fowle, who teaches 19th century French art at the University of Edinburgh, co-curated the exhibition with Pippa Stephenson-Sit, curator of European art at Glasgow Life Museums.

Prof Fowle said: "A lot of these rich industrialists made money and they were prepared to buy modern and contemporary art. Alex Reid was particularly interested in Degas - critics used to say Impressionism was ignorance and idleness but Degas was the exception.

"There are no landscapes, he liked to paint indoor scenes - the ballet dancers were showing their legs, which was quite risque. Many of the ballet dancers performed at the Paris Opera and practised in the rehearsal rooms where Degas was allowed to sketch behind the scenes. He loved the idea of capturing people unawares, it was seen as incredibly unorthodox.

"At the time L'Absinthe was painted there were problems with alcohol and the temperance movement was really strong."

Head of museums and collections at Glasgow Life Museums, Duncan Dornan, said: "We imagine Victorians as having Grand Master taste in art - this is quite way out for Burrell in the early stages of the 20th century, which reflects where Glasgow was at that time.

"Burrell took collecting very seriously, the peers of his collection are in the Met in New York.

"It is very good for the city, one of the purposes of the investment in the Burrell is to raise the profile of the cultural life here."

Ms Stephenson-Sit said Degas "caused major scandal", and added: "He wanted to show real Paris. I think Degas is quite unfairly called a misogynist and people focus on the keyhole images of women bathing. He wanted to show women how they actually looked."

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