Landscape architect

EDGAR DEGAS' "The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer," was a revelation to a beginning balletomane. In her 100-year-old tulle skirt, tights sagging ever so slightly at her knobby knees, the bronze of Marie Van Goethem, slippered feet firmly planted in fourth position, transported me to the Paris Opera ballet school in the late 1870s.

That winter of 1977-78, I also was transfixed by the artist's ballet studies in charcoal, oil and pastel that hung on the walls surrounding her in Pasadena's Norton Simon Museum. In minute detail, he captured an artistic discipline spanning generations that I was hoping to master. I soon came to admire Degas for the life's breath he infused in all his figures -- of men, women, children and horses.

So it was a surprise to discover that this man with an extreme sensitivity to light and a disdain for plein-air painters was also a master of landscapes. "Edgar Degas: The Last Landscapes" (Merrell: 128 pp., $29.95) captures his evolution from the static view of verdant hills beyond his grandfather's summer villa near Naples in 1856 to the evocative paintings, drawings and monotypes from the late 1890s of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme on France's storm-lashed northernmost coast.

When your eye is acclimated, you begin to see that many of his better-known figure paintings -- "Before the Race" (above) and "Dancer With Bouquets" -- are set against richly rendered landscapes worthy of the best paysagistes of his day. In separate essays, art historian Line Clausen Pedersen and curators Ann Dumas, Richard Kendall and Flemming Friborg explain how Degas, by intertwining portraiture and landscape, created a new realism transcending genre.

Degas' "Landscape" (1892), "Houses at the Foot of a Cliff" (1895-98) and "Steep Coast" (1892) are as breathtaking as the little dancer who captured my imagination so long ago.


-- Kristina Lindgren

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