Nick's Notes

A Trip to the Met: Manet/Degas

Capsule's Co-founder Nick Thorn shares his thoughts on Manet/Degas, a must see exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through January 7th

Words by
Nick Thorn
Published on
December 20, 2023
Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of The Met

Whether you are in town for the holidays or have just had a crazy busy fall season and have not yet had time to get to the Met for their Manet/Degas exhibition, do yourself a favor and spend a morning getting lost in this expansive, blockbuster exhibition.

Left: Degas, In a Cafe (The Absinthe Drinker) 1875-1876,  Right: Manet, Plum Brandy, c.1875

A few years ago, I read Sebastian Smee’s fascinating book The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art. The book tells the stories of four pairs of artists, including Manet and Degas, and their intersecting lives, and the way they both inspired and challenged each other. It was a wonderful lens through which to view the unfolding careers of these two painters along with other famous pairs, Picasso and Matisse, Pollock and DeKooning, Freud and Bacon.

Manet, Olympia 1863-65

Left: Manet, Nana,1867-77, Right: Manet, Young Lady in 1866, 1866

I was curious if Smee had any hand in curating the show, but what I found instead was a brilliant article he wrote discussing the show. His article goes into great depth describing the exhibition and the relationships portrayed within it. 

Degas, Family Portrait (The Bellelli Family), 1858-69

Degas, Mademoiselle Fiocre in the Ballet "La Source," c.1867-68

In addition to Smee's well crafted article, I want to add that it is rare to find such an enormous compilation of truly Iconic works in one exhibition. The cascade of paintings that one will be familiar with from art history books and highlights of permanent collections in major museums is astounding. But it is also fun to find the smaller, less well-known pieces woven into the story, sometimes hailing from regional museums, and finding their place in the narrative as well.

Left: Degas Monsieur and Madame Edouard 1869-69,  Right: Manet, Madame Manet at the Piano 1868

I've included photos of my favorite pieces in Manet/Degas, as well as a few shots on my way through the Met. The 9-ton colossal stone sculpture of a pharaoh from approx. 2000 BC. A work by contemporary artist Sam Gilliam, who we were delighted to exhibit in our last auction. Another shows how well attended the Manet/Degas exhibition was—despite it not being a post-war and contemporary exhibition, which is often touted as the most popular genre.

Patio from the Castle of Vélez Blanco

Colossal stone sculpture of a pharaoh from approx. 2000 BC

Sam Gilliam, Phase 1974

Crowd at Manet/Degas

Finally—on a more general, NYC art lover’s note—you can never go wrong with the Met. Though one might be tempted to pass it off as passé or is in search of something new or different, every time I visit the Met I am just floored by the miles and miles of amazing artifacts, collections, and pieces of history that you must walk through on your way to an exhibition. I was tempted by so many of the other shows that were occurring there simultaneously and can not wait to go back again—next will be Vertigo of Color: Matisse, Derain, and the Origins of Fauvism.

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