More than any other Impressionist, Degas consciously based his work on ideas. “What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters,” he once confessed; “of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament I know nothing.” Theodore Reff here shows us the intellectual power and originality of Degas’s complex art—as seen in his ingenious pictorial strategies and technical innovations; his use of motifs like the window, the mirror, the picture within the picture; his invention of striking, psychologically compelling compositions; and his creation of a sculptural idiom at once formal and vernacular. These essays also investigate Degas’s contacts with leading novelists and poets of his time and his efforts to illustrate or draw inspiration from their works.
Throughout the book, Degas’s creative work remains foremost. Reff’s lucid style and detailed analysis permit an intimate understanding of the way in which Degas worked and the sources he relied upon… Reff has illuminated many facets of Degas’s personality by reconstructing the world in which he lived and by examining his many friendships. By using the works of art as his primary source, Reff also probes deeply into die interpretation of their subjects… [A] modern art historical classic.