Perspective | A great painter’s novel attempt to compete with literature
Like many artists, Edgar Degas (1834-1917) had a competitive relationship with literature. He liked to think that a painting—of a particular face, in a particular setting—could tell us more about a person’s inner life than all the rigid verbal psychology of a 19th-century novel.
On Christmas Day 1867, Degas made the first sketch towards “Interior”. A painting in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Which looks like a scene. An Ingmar Bergman film A painting by or Edward Hopper. Dated 1868-1869, it is a masterpiece of Degas’s early period and the culmination of his youthful obsession with painting – particularly marriages between the sexes.
work, now for a show in Paris.”Manet/Degas,” which travels. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Later this year, a bedroom lit by a lamp is shown. The woman is sitting in a state of embarrassment or anxiety. She is dressed in a white chemise that falls from one shoulder. Her cloak and scarf are thrown across the room at the foot of the bed. Her corset is scattered on the floor.
Across the room stands a man—tall, bearded, fully clothed. Dispersing pent-up anger, he leans against the door with his hands in his pockets. Disturbingly, he appears to block the woman’s way out. The shadow he casts rises menacingly behind him. Near the center of the painting is an open sewing box with a bright red lining that catches the lamplight. The red glow makes the box the most eye-catching thing in the painting. Open and exposed, it hints at breached secrets, or worse.
For many years, “admission” was called “rap.” Several writers who knew Degas personally said that this was the title he intended. Other friends, however, said he was “outraged” by the widespread adoption of the title and denied that rape was his subject.
It is more likely that “Interior” was inspired by a particular scene in “Threse Rockin”, Emile Zola’s third novel, and the one that launched his celebrity. When “Thérèse Raquin” appeared in serial form in 1867, critics noted its unusually vivid visual details. (The novel has been adapted for TV. the film (several times.) One critic wrote, “‘Therese Rockin’ contains paintings that could be singled out as some of the most energetic and most repulsive examples of realism.”
“Entry,” as I wrote in my 2016 book,The Art of Enmity,” can be read as Degas’ response to this challenge: He wanted to paint a picture that charged like a scene in a realist novel. (Later, having indulged such youthful ambitions, he half-dismissed it as “a picture of my gender”.)
Chapter 21 of “Thérèse Raquin” describes the wedding night of Thérèse and her lover, Laurent. After conspiring to kill Therese’s first, sick husband, the lovers eventually succeed in drowning her. But they waited more than a year to get married and in the meantime, tormented by guilt, separated. Their wedding night, as a result, was not an ordinary wedding night. The relevant chapter begins:
“Laurent closed the door cautiously behind him, then for a moment crouched beside her and looked about the room, sick and ashamed. … Therese sat in a low chair to the right of the fireplace, her chin in her hand. I stared at the engulfing flames. She didn’t see round when Laurent came in. Her lace petticoat and bra looked dead white in the blazing firelight. The bra was sliding down and her shoulders. Part of it turned pink…”
Degas seems to have been fascinated by the fact that the intimacy between Laurent and Thérèse had been destroyed by a shared secret that had become too heavy to carry. Having successfully achieved the status of husband and wife, they were “doomed to live together without intimacy.”
Degas once compared painting a picture to a crime. “Interior” was his great attempt to present the psychological proceeds of crime, in the coinage of torture and moral decay.