Without Jury, But With Cupcake

DT1922Last week marked Edgar Degas’ 183rd birthday, and if any reason exists to treat oneself to a gourmet cupcake from a local bakery, it is to solitarily celebrate the birth of a hero (which may or may not have been exactly what I did). Degas was a founding member of the Société Anonyme des Artistes, or the Society of Independent Artists. It was this group that launched exhibitions apart from the traditional, elitist Salons of the day, and the Society later came to be known as the “Impressionists.”

While in Boston this past April, I got to see my very first Degas, The Rehearsal, at the Harvard Art Museum. As I turned the corner into my first gallery just past the café, there it was, hanging directly across from the doorway. I knew him immediately,  with his arms outstretched toward me for a Texas-sized hug, and seemingly wishing, “Bon voyage,” as I was preparing to cross the pond for the first big solo adventure of my twenties.

Edgar Degas, The Rehearsal. c. 1873-1878. Harvard Art Museum, Boston, MA.

A few days later, I passed an hour in a corner of the London National Gallery surrounded by half a dozen more of Degas’ paintings. Having made plans for Brighton later that week, it was difficult to keep myself from going all the way into France… but there would’ve been no returning.

Degas and his friends knew how to #lovealocal. They “blurred the lines” between art for recognition and art for art’s sake. In adapting and operating under the slogan, “Without Jury nor Reward,” Degas and the Society showed that it’s okay to claim independence in your art, and not succumb to opinions of a jury specifically for their reward. 

Happy birthday, mon chevalier.

“Art is the desire of a man to express himself.”
– Edgar Degas


Goya: From Fiction to Fact

Maybe you’re like me, and you’re cursed to be a student forever (or maybe you’re not, and you’re a lucky duck). Maybe you’re glued to the Google search engine, or maybe you’re not exactly the child in the backseat asking incessantly, “Why?” Honestly, it doesn’t matter, and it’s not my point for this blog, I’m just trying to come up with a good opening paragraph. Carry on.

Thanks to unlimited data plans, I’ve commenced to listening to TV shows on Netflix over my car stereo while driving back and forth between Austin and San Antonio. (It’s a lot like radio drama! LOVE.) During one of my recent trips, I listened to the pilot episode of my very favorite TV show, White Collar. I’ve seen this particular episode probably three or four times in the past while introducing the show to non-believers, but it had been several years since my last confession… and I wanted to listen to something that had characters with whom I would be at least vaguely familiar, so I wouldn’t miss so much by not watching.

If you’re familiar with White Collar, you know that the show features Neal Caffrey, a con artist, who convinces Peter Burke, the FBI agent who caught Neal, to agree to a work-release program. Basically, Neal serves the rest of his prison sentence as property of/a consultant to the FBI, and the series is a string of capers in which Neal uses his artsy smarts and con-artist mentality to help Peter catch other white-collar criminals.

self-portrait-with-spectaclesAaaanyway, to the point. In the first episode, Neal and Peter work to catch a forger of Spanish war bonds. The bonds feature a work by Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco de Goya, which leads Neal to believe that the bonds might be the work of renowned Goya restorer, Curtis Hagen (played by Mark Sheppard, for my fellow members of the SPN family!). To make a long story short, Hagen is caught, and my Goya curiosity is piqued.

I’ve spent the last week and a half reading about and doing research on Goya and his work, livelihood, and influences. While I’ve never been particularly interested in Spanish art, I’ve learned a few interesting things about Goya that actually tie back to “easter eggs,” to loosely borrow the idea, in the pilot episode of White Collar. There’s something about catching details that only maybe 5% of the audience might recognize, and I love feeling like an insider.

  • Frescos_de_Goya_en_San_Antonio_de_la_FloridaCurtis Hagen is located by Neal and Peter while Hagen is restoring frescoes in a church. Goya’s reputation as an artist was established with his rococo frescoes painted for a cathedral in Saragossa, upon his return to Spain from Italy where he studied the classic artists. Plus one for White Collar.


  • the-milkmaid-of-bordeaux-1827Neal and Peter have some conversation about a 1982 bottle of Bordeaux. Goya retired to Bordeaux, France, and spent his last years there. It was in Bordeaux that Goya produced The Milkmaid of Bordeaux, the painting of Goya’s that has come to be my favorite. Goya uses shades of blue, one of his rarely used colors (my favorite color); Goya stopped using paintbrushes and used only his palette knife and rags while in Bordeaux (“what matter?”); The Milkmaid of Bordeaux more than any of Goya’s works shows Goya to be a precursor to the Impressionists (my favorite art movement).


  • Peter’s wife, Elizabeth, is characterized by enjoying pottery making, Nancy Drew mysteries, oleander candles, old jazz, and “anything Italian except anchovies.” Young Goya spent two years studying art in Italy, and won an award for his painting skill from the Academy of Parma. It was following Goya’s time in Italy that he painted the frescoes in Spain that established his reputation.

That last connection’s a lesser connection, to be sure, maybe coincidental at best… but who wants to make just two points when three is a much more complete number? All else aside, here is where my favorite fiction has become very “fact” to me – I’ve got a bit more appreciation for Spanish art, and the town of Bordeaux added to my bucket list. Many thanks, White Collar.