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Edgar Degas (1834–1917): A Centenary Tribute, Part 6—Issues of Finish and Process in the Paintings of Degas

Ann Hoenigswald, senior conservator of paintings, National Gallery of Art

Dedicated to Edgar Degas (1834–1917) in the centennial year of his death, Volume 3 of the conservation division's biennial journal Facture: Conservation, Science, Art History focuses on the tremendous wealth of works by Degas in the National Gallery of Art collection. The first to feature the work of a single artist, this issue includes essays by conservators, scientists, and curators. It presents insights into Degas's working methods in painting, sculpture in wax and bronze, and works on paper, as well as a sonnet he wrote to his "little dancer." The Gallery has the third largest collection in the world of work by Degas, comprising 21 paintings, 65 sculptures, 34 drawings, 40 prints, 2 copper plates, and 1 volume of soft-ground etchings. Its extensive Degas holdings and conservation resources have inspired not only groundbreaking Gallery exhibitions—such as Degas, the Dancers (1984), Degas at the Races (1998), Degas's Little Dancer (2014), and Degas/Cassatt (2014)—but also exhibitions around the world. For the public symposium held as a centenary tribute on September 22, 2017, Ann Hoenigswald shared insights into Degas's compulsive working sessions and his inability to "finish" a work of art. She described various surfaces—often found in the same work—used by Degas, who valued flexibility and potential over preservation and closure.