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Touch and Vision in Edgar Degas’s Darkfield Monotypes

This article examines some of the unique compositional opportunities that the medium of darkfield monotyping offered Edgar Degas. Defending the idea that Degas undertook a distinctive set of pictorial experiments in monotype, I consider how typical sources of illumination are used for the purpose of cancelling the standard role that light plays in the organization of visual representations. This is, I argue, part of an important aesthetic inquiry that involves the posing of two related questions: first, what happens when a key enabling condition of visual perception (light) is removed from a two-dimensional work? Secondly, how might an artist depict the invisible in visual art? I argue that in their exploration of answers to these two questions, Degas’s darkfield monotypes privilege the sense of touch over vision for the purpose of undermining conventions that attach to the organization of pictorial space.
Relevant research areas: Western Europe, 19th Century, Monoprinting