All Mirrors of Edgar Degas, in Nine Parts, including Prologue, Epilogue, and a Bonus

When I was writing my stories about Degas, and his mirrors, I followed a simple chronology, placing the works one after another as they have been made during his life.  I then decided to take an overview of some sort, and group all his mirror works in a few clusters, or themes.  Here is my try.

0. Prologues – this is time where Degas does paint any mirrors yet. It’s a learning phase, his sketches and drawings, and eventually the paintings are representational. I write about these works in Part I

Cluster I – Class Mirrors

This group is formed by a few works where we already see mirrors, although they hardly ‘work’ as the mirrors. They do reflect some things, but they are not really used to look at them, and placed to the paintings merely as status symbols. Their frames are more important for that purpose that the actual mirror surfaces; not surprisingly, Degas shows only parts of these mirrors (with one exception, in the Interior, where we see the mirror on full.)  I write about these works also in Part I, but one painting can be seen in Part II.

Cluster  II – Ballet Mirrors

Degas painted a huge amount of ‘ballerinas’ (over 300), and thanks to that he is mostly known as THE ballet painter. Only a few of them have mirrors, although some of these are very famous (like his Dance Classes), so the mirrors are somehow also a part of the Degas’ image.

However, in general mirrors also don’t play any major role in these paintings. We often see the reflections in them, and sometimes the dancer do orient themselves toward the mirror surfaces, but these mirrors remain mostly a part of ‘professional interior’. A couple of later works in this cluster show more interesting interactions with mirrors, so I could see them as transitions to the Clusters III and VI in my system.

Cluster III – Hat in a Mirror

So far all the works in this cluster are indeed related to the milliners’ shops (I don’t exclude that there may be some other paintings showing with the same, or similar interactions, but not in these settings, but I don’t know about them yet.)

As a rule, they show much more complex interactions of people (women, to be precisely) with the mirrors. An interesting feature of this cluster is a placement of the mirror out of the canvas; technically speaking, there are no mirrors on some of these works, but we clearly sense their presence in the composition and in the interactions. I write about these works by the end of Part II.

Cluster IV – Mirrors (Re)Virtualized 

In some sense it’s a degenerated cluster, it consists of just one painting. However, I consider this work the ‘best in class’ for Degas, and specifically in a mirror class. It shows the most complex interactions with mirror, and as such it is the most enigmatic mirror of Degas. I write about this painting by the end of Part II.

Cluster V – Mirror Walls

This is a small, but an important set of works; these mirrors can be described as “large flat surfaces mounted on the walls. They are all installed in public spaces, which create new dimensions in peoples’ (non)interactions with them. I write about these works in the end of Part II.

Cluster VI – Mirrors by Water, or The Bassins

This the largest cluster by far, and some of the works in the cluster (but not all) also show quite interesting, and novel for Degas, ways of interactions with mirrors. The majority of them depict (semi)nude women doing their bathing. The mirrors here often play an important role in the scene (although sometimes not).  My hypotheses is that Degas started this series with more interesting works (interesting in terms of mirror-work), but this complexity declined, in some sense returning him to the very beginning of the ‘mirror curve’.  I write about these works in Part III.

The last is not cluster in full sense, but rather an Epilogue. The last works of Degas again don’t have any mirrors (although they are hard to label as ‘representational’). I conclude Part III with a few examples.

The really last set is a (photo) Bonus; these are not paintings but the photographs by Degas, I have a couple of examples of the ones where he used mirrors.  I write about these stage in the end of Part III and then in a separate posting about one work I found later.


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