This spring, the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine will be the home of an Edgar Degas exhibition, highlighting his works on paper and the works of his circle of friends.
“Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist” is a special exhibition from the private collector and curator, Robert Flynn Johnson. Johnson’s collection features over 50 works by Degas, along with monotypes, prints, drawings and photography by Degas’ friends and colleagues, such as Edouard Manet, Alfred Stevens, Jean Leon Gerome and pastelist, Mary Cassatt.
“As a matter of fact, Degas taught Mary pastels,” said Alison Schaeffler-Murphy, Lightner Museum’s programs and education coordinator. “It was because of their friendship that she became the quintessential pastelist that she is.”
Artist and early impressionist Comte Ludovic Lepic is also featured in the exhibition. According to journal article, “Edgar Degas and Ludovic Lepic: An Impressionist Friendship,” Lepic is seen in 11 works by Degas, and they were longtime friends for over 30 years.
Although Degas is known for his influence in the impressionist movement, he never considered being an impressionist, himself.
“Even though he helped set up the impressionist exhibitions and everything, he considered himself a painter of modern life,” Shaeffler-Murphy said. “So, when you look at the works that you’ll see, you’ll see a lot of imagery that is of just the general life in Paris at that time.”
For Degas, general life in Paris during his era meant dance. From ballet to burlesque, Degas’ work overflowed with ballerinas and Parisian dancers of the 19th century. The “Private Impressionist” collection shows sketches of dancers in their studios during practices, along with other sketches of the human body in movement.
“They’re in print and what’s interesting about his print is some of them are actually pre-studies for other works,” Shaeffler-Murphy explained. “He was creating a monotype to use as a format or an understudy like an oil painter will use bronzes, yellows and warm tones to get the undertone. Degas did that.”
According to Shaeffler-Murphy, Robert Flynn Johnson's vast Degas collection also includes work from when Degas studied at the Louvre.
Johnson has been a curator of collections for over 40 years and will be at the Lightner Museum on May 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. for a lecture on how his passion for Degas was ignited and the journeys he’s travelled to hunt down work by Degas and his circle.
“Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist” will be featured at the Lightner Museum from April 12 to June 16. The exhibition is free for members and $5 dollars for non-members ,along with the $15 museum admission fee.