July 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Edgar Degas: Works Recovered and Still Missing

Edgar Degas.  Count Lepic and His Daughters.
 1871.  Oil on canvas. 65.5 x 81 cm.
E.G. Bührle Collection, Zurich.

by Kirsten Hower, ARCA European Correspondent

 Today we honour the birthday of French Impressionist artist Edgar Degas (1834-1917).  Best known for his depictions of dancers, Degas was both a sculptor and painter who combined tradition with change in the 19th century art world.  Like many famous artists, his work has been admired and fallen prey to the criminal world.  One of his paintings, Count Lepic and His Daughters of 1871, was part of a four year recovery that was only recently announced upon its completion in April of this year.
   On the afternoon of Sunday, February 10, 2008, three masked gunman stole four paintings from the E.G. Bührle Collection in Zurich—one of the greatest Impressionist and Post-Impressionist museums in Europe.  The four paintings, one each by Cézanne, Degas, van Gogh, and Monet, were valued at $163 million and have all been recovered as of April 2012.[i]  Degas’ painting was actually recovered in 2009, but this information was kept quiet until the recovery of the final and most expensive painting, Cézanne’s The Boy in a Red Vest, was recovered in 2012.  There was some damage to the paintings which had been cut from their frames, including the Degas which thankfully only suffered damage to the edges of the painting.[ii] 
  Degas’ group portrait of Count Lepic and his two daughters has an entirely Impressionist look, particularly the girls who look rather Cassatt-like, though it has moments of looking far more like charcoal or watercolour rather than an oil painting on canvas.  Lepic’s face appears unfinished, his expression just shy of unreadable save for the attentive gaze of a father for his daughter.  The two girls stare out at the viewer with gazes both knowing and angelically innocent.  One can imagine even a hardened criminal becoming uneasy under such a gaze, especially after having damaged the painting during the theft.
   Thankfully for Degas, this particular theft of his artwork had a happy ending.  Five works by Degas do not have such a happy ending and are currently missing in conjunction to the infamous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft of 1990, including Cotège aux Environs de Florence (pencil and wash on paper).  Hopefully these works will one day have their happy ending as well.

Kirsten Hower is the Academic Program Assistant for ARCA.  She is currently finishing her MLitt at Christie's Education.

[i]Uta Harnischfeger and Nicholas Kulish, “At Zurich Museum, a Theft of 4 Masterworks,” New York Times, February 12, 2008.
[ii] Swissinfo.ch, “Stolen Degas recovered damaged,” April 27, 2012.