Study Visit: Degas to Picasso at the Ashmolean

A Study Visit – Saturday 29 April 2017

Degas to Picasso: Creating Modernism in France

Ashmolean, Oxford.

It’s been a while since this Study Visit, but I’ve finally got around to typing the notes I made while looking around the exhibition.

This exhibition consisted of over a century and a half of art produced in Paris. The art that I saw on display, by a range of artists, such as Matisse, Degas, Renoir and Picasso to name a few, was very diverse and progressive.

I noted the following definition of Modernism:

“Modernism” – an approach to art that looks beyond the naturalistic to the subjective or the abstract, that focuses on new ‘modern’ subjects, and that challenges normal assumptions about how to represent human experience in two dimensions. At the same time, more traditional approaches to art that were historically associated with the French Academy continued to provide a productive counterpart to the experiments of the avant garde. (2017, Ashmolean)

Academy and Avant-Garde

The first part of the exhibition looked at Academy and Avant-Garde, which seemed to be about a desire to break free from the ways art had traditionally been taught, displayed and discussed. The French Academy was very traditional.

I looked at various works from this period, and made notes on the some of the works that I found particularly interesting to look at. I noticed I am particularly drawn to the artists sketches – I think this is more because I think you can see more of the artists individual style or personality in the rougher work, than in their finished paintings.

Some of the artists featured here included:

  • Fragonard, Jean-Honoré
  • David, Jacques-Louis
  • Géricault, Jean-Louis-André-Theodore
  • Delecroix, Eugene
  • Ingres
  • Chasserou

One of the images I kept returning to was Gericault’s Three studies of the head of a lion and the study of a paw (c.1822). Seeing work like this fascinates me, possibly because of the roughness to it, but also seeing how accurate a few strokes of the pencil can be in depicting a subject.


The next part of the exhibition focussed on the Revolution, where there was a rise of satire in illustrated work, particularly when referencing the political. I noted three paintings by Daumier, all with a similar political and satirical tone to them, yet all looked completely different in aesthetic styles.

  • Daumier, Honoré
  • Millet, Jean-François
  • Manet, Edouard
  • Dové, Louis-Auguste-Gustave

One of the works that I kept returning to from this period, was Dové’s Mountainous Landscape (1879). I found the artist interesting, because despite being a successful illustrator, he had to fight to be taken seriously as a fine artist. The landscapes he produced were not actual reproductions of specific scenes or places, but rather based on his trips to the Alps and Scottish Highlinds.

Moving into Modern World

This was the period in which a group of artists that were unable to get work in the Salon organised their own exhibition of work.

  • Monet
  • Pisarro
  • Degas

There was quite a lot of Degas’ works featured in this section, including some larger figure sketches of a woman in charcoal/chalk/pastel. I thought these all looked very quick and rough, and showed a lot of movement, but with a strong outline.

The New Independents

Artist’s that featured in this movement in the exhibition included:

  • Van Gogh
  • Renoir
  • Cézanne
  • Seurat
  • Redon

I enjoyed looking at the drawings by Mary Cassat and Renoir, both of which were sketches that were later made into etchings/paintings. I was interested to learn that Renoir was part of the initial circle of Impressionists, but broke off from this to pursue a more classical style. His work on nudes reflected his admiration for the old Masters, particularly Reuben’s nudes.

“Wild Beasts” and Cubists

Many of the works in this section had a harsh, unnaturalistic use of colour and was deliberately provocative. The techniques used were quite rough. I thought Roaul Dufy’s painting’s Palm Tree and Terrace at L’Estaque (1908-09) and View of Venice (1908) both looked quite rough, with a bold focus on colours. To me, I thought they didn’t look like finished works of art, rather like they were still in progress.

Other works in this section that I noted were by Picasso and Juan Gris.

Golden Section

This section focussed on the ‘Salon de la Section d’Or’, which was the largest showing of Cubism in Paris in 1912, and included works by Jacques Villon, Picasso and Albert Gleizes.

Innovation by tradition

Although there were a variety of works in part of the exhibition, including Picasso, the ones that I was particularly fascinated by were by Marcel Gromaire, in particular The town of Aubusson (1940).


Ashmolean. (2017) Degas to Picasso. [Exhibition]. Oxford: Ashmolean.

Hudson, M. (2017) All-time-great artists in a show with rare provenance – Degas to Picasso: Creating Modernism in France, review. At: (Accessed on 10 May 2017)


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