By Salva Rubio and Efa
Europe Comics has been publishing a handful of classical art and literature biographies as of late, and I’m all for it. Much like with a similar book, Mademoiselle Baudelaire, the format of a graphic novel takes a name from an art history book, a stuffy footnote at best, and breathes life into them. I feel as if something like this is far more beneficial to someone learning about said artist vs a list of dates to memorize. The subject for this review is a book called Degas and Cassatt – The Dance of Solitude by Salva Rubio and Efa, which covers the life of famous impressionist artist Edgar Degas and his relationship with a woman that was perhaps his only real friend.
“Founder of the Impressionist movement of which he was one of the most merciless critics, too bohemian for the bourgeois and too bourgeois for the artists, Edgar Degas was a man of many paradoxes. A loner, he loved only one woman without ever courting her. Looking into this unique relationship at the twilight of Degas’ life, Efa and Rubio open the pages of the artist’s notebooks hoping to unravel the mystery of this genius full of contradictions.”
While there isn’t a plausible way for the artist to 100% copy the art style, you can tell that this was a VERY ambitious project to capture the style and tone of Degas’ notable impressionist artistic style. Everyone is drawn in pastel, or a passable simulacra of pastel paintings. This is not reserved for the handful of reproductions of his famous paintings we see alluded to, but a stylistic choice done throughout the entire comic. if this was, in fact, all hand-drawn the amount of time that went into this had to have been quite immense.
The book is mostly about the tumultuous relationship between Degas and one of his proteges, an artist named Mary Cassatt. many have questioned whether Degas had more than a working relationship with Cassatt, but no letters exist to show they had any sort of “fling” and a handful of his contemporaries derided him as being celibate or even impotent. The two were inseparable for a time, with either one helping to train or promote the other in their opposite respective countries (Cassatt was American). The narrative here is book-ended by an aged Cassatt visiting the grave of Degas after his death and realizing that the man was more than he let on to be via his journals.
The same sort of relationship definitely did not exist between Degas and the majority of his other art acquaintances, we see his utter disdain for “bohemian artists”, which could explain why so many (for example Van Gogh) slagged him off to such a degree in letters. Most of his “friendships” are portrayed as mere networking relationships, or alliances of convenience. It’s almost as if Degas only stomached personal interactions as a way to further his artistic pursuits. Degas was very affluent and conservative, so the ostentatious way in which other artists lived had to have made him sick. Degas also did not help matters by being nigh insufferable to be around, voicing his STRONG opinions on things in the open rather than keeping it to himself.
This was an amazing comic due to the art and the way it captures the souls of both Degas and Cassatt. The comic does not glamorize anything, nor does it go on crazy tangents to create drama out of thin air, so the whole thing seems VERY plausible despite being historical fiction to a large degree. I’m not the most well-read on art history, so something like this was definitely something up my alley and I feel like I learned a lot from reading it. Seasoned art-historians likely have different opinions, but for me this was perfect. If you are an art fan, or have a trip to a museum coming up, this might be a good read to do in conjunction with that, as my readers know I always try to couple educational trips with books.
If you are interested in this book, click HERE
NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.