Discovering Degas

James Lord at The New Criterion:

What a surprise to discover that modernism starts with Degas! And all the while we’d thought that Cézanne, van Gogh, Monet, Seurat, even Gauguin were the ones who readied the diving board for the great plunge. They had the obvious influences, of course, but a radically original, authentically modern means of making images into works of art was already fully formed in the creations of Degas while all the others were still testing their talents. To be sure, he was older, far more precocious. He also had a gift for modesty and the wit to know that artistic consummation is not to be had through technical virtuosity. Above all, he had the strength of character to measure his progress according to the pitiless standard of tradition. No innovator of the modern era has known better than Degas what full resources for future originality could be gleaned from self-effacing concentration upon great attainments of the past. It was his luck, perhaps, to come along at just the right time; it was his genius to make the rightness of the time hinge upon his own imperious and fleeting vision of a world real to him only because his pictures looked like it.

more here.