Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Guest Post from an Extraordinary Blogger

How the National Gallery, London was influenced by the death of Edgar Degas ...

I had as my theme for the recent A –Z Challenge Degas and his paintings ... under the theme title “Art, Art and more Art” ...

Hilary of Positive Letters emailed me and said she’d come across a story about Degas and the economist Maynard Keynes and could she guest blog part of the story here ... we have become friends through our posts.

Hilary is an extraordinary blogger from the UK, who has been blogging for six years.  She writes about Britain, particularly Cornwall and Sussex, and from her travels gives us wonderful tidbits of information about British history, people, places, museums and things; she occasionally adds in stories about her time in South Africa and knowledge of other parts of the world.  She is going to publish some ebooks based around her posts and blog in the near future.  So, if you are a new follower please read through some of her treasure trove of stories

Presenting:  Hilary Melton-Butcher       

"Lover of Words blog “Of Ships, Shoes and Sealing Wax and Cabbages and Kings” had as her theme for the recent A –Z Challenge Degas and his paintings ... under the theme title “Art, Art and more Art” ....

... as she says “Art is universal and even though we may not speak the same language, we can enjoy looking at the same painting and see different things in it, because of our own experiences and thoughts” ...

And I would add learn about the era – for instance her “C is for The Cotton Office in New Orleans – who knew the Degas family was into cotton brokerage and had a business in Louisiana ... 

The Cotton Market in New Orleans. 1873  Edgar Degas

So I was entranced by her A – Z entries on Degas ... now you’re here please check them out ... and follow her if you’re not already doing so ...

... as you can imagine Degas was on my mind ... and when I heard about a tie in between Degas and Maynard Keynes, the economist ... I had to post the story ...

Maynard Keynes, the economist, was a member of the Bloomsbury Group, and was a passionate supporter of the arts, but worked for the government and had persuaded the Chancellor of the Exchequer to let the Director of the National Gallery have £20,000 to purchase some of Degas’ art works from his estate.

On my blog I left Keynes in 1917 Paris, with the Director of the National Gallery, bidding for art works from Degas’ private collection of friends’ paintings after his death ...

... as the auction began the howitzers lobbed shells at Paris ... this scared most  buyers away ... leaving Keynes to purchase 27 paintings at greatly reduced prices to take back to the UK ... by artists such as Delacroix, Cezanne, Monet, Ingres and Degas’ own works ...

Keynes and the Director of the National Gallery, who was a classical artist knew what he was bidding for ... but was not fond of modernism, so Keynes bought and kept Cezanne’s “Still Life with Seven Apples” ...

... however the 27 paintings purchased were what would go on to become the foundation of the collection of modern art at the National Gallery today.

The suffragette movement had targeted the Gallery to draw attention to their cause, so at the start of the War the National Gallery was in a state of flux ... with the result that most of their paintings were stored away ...

Earlier in the 1900s the reception of Impressionist art at the Gallery got off to an exceptionally stormy start  ... but what was then, became dramatically changed through the acquisitions at this bizarre sale in 1917.

Cezanne remained a real problem ... he divided artists, even modern artists in London and the art world ...

...  the Bloomsbury Group supported crossing that divide ... and thought the most important thing in the world was to put up paintings by painters such as Cezanne and those he influenced, e.g. Degas.

 Today the most popular rooms at the National Gallery are the four galleries devoted to modern French painting over 50 years, whereas the Florentine and Flemish paintings covering about 200 years are arranged in two rooms each ...

... confirming Charles Holmes, National Gallery Director in 1917, and Maynard Keynes’ bizarre purchases to be so important to the success of The National Gallery with its collections as we know them.

Finding out about how Degas’ death gave renewed life to the National Gallery ... through the purchase of those 27 paintings from his private collection ...

... seemed to offer a way to really round off Lover of Words A-Z posts on Degas ... and to explain how important Degas is today to our British art collection.

Thank you for having me on your blog ... and my post on Maynard Keynes and those paintings can be found here:

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


  1. Hi Nat - thanks so much having half of my Degas and Maynard Keynes story here .. they link in very well and I'm sure everyone will enjoy the story line ..

    I sincerely hope others will go back to your A-Z posts about Degas - they make interesting reading and can teach us much about the art world ...

    We live and learn don't we ... so many interesting snippets of information .. and we meet great friends from around the world .. it's a joy to be blogging .. you've honoured me greatly here with the blog post title .. many thanks ...

    Cheers and thanks for helping me out with this two part story ... Hilary

  2. A lovely tie-in Hilary and loverofwords ! I knew about the Degas cotton business, but think we came across it in reading about the history of the artists in several books we have. I like it when countries acquire art from other countries - then we can see influences, trends, etc. I also enjoyed the tribute to Degas' work that was loverofwords theme for the challenge.
    Enjoyed this post, thanks.

    1. All those interesting art characters, women too, like Mary Cassatt. I need to read more biographies. Nothing though, matches seeing the art in person.

  3. Hi D.G. Another of my favorite bloggers--you! And your layouts are lush! Saving Art is so important and to be able for anyone to visit a museum and see some of those masterpieces is like reading a good book--the experience nourishes us more than food.

  4. That's a very generous gesture of you Natasha - but a fitting postscript to your A-Z month..... and most of it was new to me!
    CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

    1. Ah, Bazza. I really know so little would love to go back and take courses in Art and Art history, but the Internet helps.

  5. i have always been interested in degas and all the influence his work continues to have

    1. I think he liked women and so many paintings of his were of them doing something, not just the wealthy but women ironing, dancing, or on a trapeze. I need to find out more about this. Thanks for your visit!

  6. I found the Degas posts absolutely fascinating, knew nothing about him at all. The pair of you have done a great job of researching the backgrounds of both the artist and how Britain acquired such a collection of paintings. Thanks to both of you.

  7. Thanks, Jo. We don't have a museum that has the collections that the UK has. When I was there I went to the Tate to see the Turners--what an experience to see them first-hand.

  8. I remember the Turners too and I was just a schoolkid when I saw them. Fabulous.

  9. I also enjoyed learning about Keynes and his connection with Degas. We recently saw some of Degas' paintings at the Orsay Museum. I wish that I had read your A to Z posts prior to our trip to enhance our tour. A lovely collaboration, Natasha and Hilary!


  10. Thanks EN! Degas painted for 60 years, amazing. Art was his life and we are the recipients of a glimpse of another time. We are so lucky, those of us who are able to travel and see these works of art.

  11. Hilary and I are friends and it was great to see you over there! Neat collaboration you two have going on here! So much to learn.
    Tina @ Life is Good
    On the Open Road! @ Join us for the 4th Annual Post-Challenge Road Trip!

  12. Hi Tina and Nat .. thanks so much - we are friends across the pond-waves! And this was a fun collaborative event .. cheers Hilary