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Self Portrait in a Soft Hat by prominent artist, Edgar Degas, showcases gentle brush strokes used to illuminate the canvas. The painting dates back to 1857-1858, as the oil on canvas style struck Degas inspiring him to create the piece.
The artwork is currently housed in The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Art historians throughout centuries attribute Degas’s self-portrait to a multiple number of inspirations he encountered. As evident in the formation of sketches and styles found within the artist’s sketchbooks, Degas was highly influenced by a friend of his father, Prince Gregory Soutzo. While the Prince did not carry any art history or knowledge, he had commented on Degas to his father. The Prince stated, ‘What courage he has in his studies. It is vital never to bargain with Nature. Courage is required to tackle the appearance of Nature in its great planes and it’s great lines and cowardice to do so by facets and details. It is a war.’
These words of the Prince heavily impacted Degas’s artistic career as it was believed that this quote inspired the Self Portrait in a Soft Hat. The quote was found within Degas’s sketch book, which he jotted down upon hearing these words. The Prince continued to influence Degas’s work as he suggested to the young artist to incorporate the style of etching within the artist’s work. Whereas this style enabled Degas to showcase a different form within his art, the artist’s popularity is based on his medium of paintings.
The style of etching is used within the self-portrait as Degas uses a multitude of forms to depict himself. The facial structure of the portrait focuses on illustrating the exact details along Degas’s face. Degas carries the ability to display each of his facial characteristics while still bleeding the colours as one. His face does not strike the viewer, however it still manages to be carefully created. The gaze of Degas in his self-portrait is based in a similar style to classic Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s work Girl with a Pearl Earring. Both of these paintings hold a calm gaze in a side profile towards the viewer. Yet, both individuals within the paintings do not demand the viewers’ attention as if they do not desire it.
Degas creates his self-portrait in a soft brush stroke towards his own face. Little linear strokes blending downwards are used to illustrate his facial hair. The artist creates a contract in the skin colour by incorporating a lighter shade of white along the bottom of the artist’s face. Degas focuses on a few of his facial features to illuminate within the artwork. The artist’s nose is depicted long along his face, heading towards his small lips. His face is depicted thinly, using his beard to add depth to his face.
Based on the artwork, viewers are able to hold a visual representation of Degas, and his international self-awareness based on the way in which he painted himself. A grey top hat is placed on his head, with no significant detail or texture. Instead, the painting apart from the artist’s face is quickly painted with a lack of detail. This method is most likely to bring the attention of the viewer back to the detailed elements of Degas’s face. The background remains in a muted grey, with a dark blue undertone. Degas pairs his self portrait in bright attire through a white blazer with a black undershirt and a red scarf covering his neck.