Edgar Degas was not afraid. He gazed into a mirror at age twenty and saw that the world in the future would look to him for a vision of creative rectitude and spiritual exaltation. So he sat down and painted a self-portrait in which, with penetrating candor and austere resolution, he depicted a person prepared to sacrifice his life for the mere privilege of making masterpieces. This poignant but proud and uncompromising image was the first work by Degas which waited to challenge the discernment of visitors to the vast retrospective exhibition that began its world tour at the Grand Palais in Paris this spring. The self-portrait told us that we were being introduced to greatness and that we would do well to scrutinize its handiwork with a diligence as rapt and humble as the artist’s own. His courage consoled us while we reflected that its like seems to have vanished from the world.


New to The New Criterion?

Subscribe for one year to receive ten print issues, and gain immediate access to our online archive spanning more than four decades of art and cultural criticism.

Popular Right Now