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Video transcript

Impressionism is so often painting of Modern Life of activities that we engage in now things that we do every day we go to cafes we go to performances we sit in bars we have a drink we've stroll down the boulevards this is the stuff of modern life and the stuff of impressionist painting and in fact the painting that we're looking at is painting that is about what we are doing right now that is looking at paintings I almost feel as though I'm looking in a mirror when I look up at this painting and in fact we're in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston looking at Edgar Degas visit to a museum we think that the painting shows Mary Cassatt Degas friend because the guy actually did a series of prints of Mary Cassatt in two different galleries in the Louvre and he also did another oil painting of this subject he also did pastels it was clearly one that he really liked but he did that with his subjects once he found a subject like the races or the ballet or the nude he would visit it time and time again and rework it and he clearly did that with this subject in fact art historians think that perhaps the woman who's seated is America's odd sister Lydia and Digga and Mary Cassatt were friends for 40 years and juga actually was the one who suggested that Mary Cassatt exhibit with the impressionist group which she did she was the only American to do so they were really like-minded it's interesting because Digga is often criticized as being a misogynist somebody who has a very difficult time with women but it's more complex issue and it has to do also with class the America thought had come from a very wealthy American family and so in some ways although she didn't have the pedigree the Degas family name had they were on par the story is that Mary Cassatt saw a digger in a shop window and pressed her nose against the window so that she could see it and take it in and really admired it and that similarly de Gotha saw a painting by Mary Cassatt in 1874 and really admired it and saw her as a kindred spirit in fact daga is quoted saying to Mary Cassatt most women painters though they're trimming hats not you so they had this really close one relationship and facade is reported to have stepped in when models were not able to do exactly what de God wanted them to do so de god took Mary Cassatt as his model for the subjects of at the museum because by doing so he was immediately taking a woman who was interested in looking at art and who had a really good eye and a really intelligent eye look at the pose that he's placed her in her head is cocked back she is really assessing and there is a sense of the discerning here it's interesting this balance of looking at printed material and looking at visual material that's on the walls of the gallery that's something that we see around us if we just look around this gallery that we're in today so this is a painting that's in some ways about the way we read the visual and it's a painting about seeing the subject is somebody looking at art as we the viewers in the museum are looking at art and so there's this perfect replication but more than looking Mary Cassatt is standing tilting gesturing moving and so is her companion holding the book looking up tilting her head and I think that's precisely what the guy was interested in the same way that he's interested in gesture if we look at other subjects that he found compelling like milliner's or ballet dancers the way that they stand the way that they move and I think there was something really interesting and modern to Digga about the way people move and look at art and gesture and stand in an art museum right it's an expression of the modern world and it's interesting and I think instructive to think about what Digga has not focused on he has not shown us what the specific works of art are that she's looking at we can't even see the body or the dress all that clearly the entire painting is beautifully brushy and it gives a sense of the momentary that's right if anything is specific it's the gesture it's the posture I think that take us very much thinking about the kinds of questions that Baudelaire raised putting away the rhetorical gestures of history painting of images of ancient Greece and Rome that we think of when we think about salon paintings by Couture's Jerome or Bouguereau for de gAHS viewers this must have looked ugly these aren't the graceful gestures of painting condoned by the Royal Academy these are really modern and in some waise ugly gestures the way you might capture someone sitting on the subway all the paint is really quite muddy as well the colors and muddy and the composition is also at odds with what academic painting would expect they're looking to the upper right but the paintings construction the orthogonals look for instance at the bench the way the plain of the floor meets the plain of the wall all of that rushes to the upper left and so they're in opposition to each other there's this real sense of movement and energy in the painting that's created by this compositional opposition that he's constructed but it is so much at odds with the way that an academic painting would be organized right in an academic painting we would likely see what they were looking at and we would see their expressions and there would be some narrative to be constructed out of that but that's not what interested digger