WEFOUNDDegas The Artist's Mind


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WASHINGTON — Edgar Degas first noticed Mary Cassatt’s work in 1874, before he had actually met her. Cassatt, who had not yet settled in Paris (she was about to) had sent a portrait — the head of a woman wearing a Spanish mantilla — to that year’s Salon.

Something about the confident drawing and the bravura brushwork, but most of all, one imagines, the odd, asymmetrical set of the woman’s mouth — it hinted at a slight disjuncture between interior life and social presentation, and at the possibility that something demonic might open up beneath the veneer of social appearances — got to Degas.

The pronouncement is often quoted, and it’s easy to see why: It was the opening salvo in a celebrated relationship. But it throws up a tantalizing question. For what sort of person really felt as Degas did?

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