Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Degas & Cassatt, Graphic Novel

He was an artist, but not a bohemian. Heaven forbid, anything but that. He is considered an early Impressionist, but he was really a bridge between the grubby “bohemians” like Monet and the hidebound Academic school. He genuinely respected few colleagues, but the similarly “in between” Manet was one. The American Mary Cassatt was another. Cassatt looks back on her difficult, ambiguous relationship with Edgar Degas in Salva Rubio’s graphic novel Degas & Cassatt: A Solitary Dance, illustrated by Efa (Ricard Fernandez), which goes on-sale today.

Degas was a man of contradictions. He essentially made Impressionism with a series of exhibitions, even though he decidedly never identified with the movement. He remains best known for his paintings of ballerinas, who were largely considered “women of questionable virtue” at the time. Yet, he was suspected to be celibate or even sterile.

Cassatt wondered too. She found him trying, but there was still a strong rapport between them. Yet, nothing of a romantic nature ever happened between them. She will try to puzzle out why that was, Rosebud-style, as Rubio’s narrative unfolds.

Appropriately, Efa’s art reflects the gauzy, pastel-like look and texture of Degas’s paintings which is quite some trick. Clearly, Rubio is deeply steeped in the lives and work of Degas and his contemporaries. Readers benefit from his keen understanding of Degas’s aesthetic philosophy and the speculation regarding his relationship with Cassatt carries the ring of truth. However, perhaps it is a function of the translation, but like many biographical graphic novels (such as
Tolkien: Lighting Up the Darkness), the dialogue sounds stiff and heavy with historical context to the mind’s ear.

Nevertheless, this is a richly sophisticated work of graphical art and storytelling. It is also good reminder of Cassatt’s significance as an American artist, who was not entirely an Impressionist either, but was probably much closer than Degas. You can learn a lot from
Degas & Cassatt, while also enjoying the bohemian milieu he so vociferously rejected. Highly recommended for students of the Impressionist movement, Degas & Cassatt is now available at book and comics retailers.