History’s most respected painters all gave their lives to their art. We can almost call that a requirement of the artist who wishes their work to attain immortality, but as for the mortal artists themselves — well, they’ve all got to get out of the house sometime or another. That rule held even for Edgar Degas, 19th- and early 20th-century painter, sculptor, and reluctant impressionist whose body of work commands many dedicated exhibitions even in the 21st century. In the clip above, you can see one of his excursions onto the streets of Paris, captured in 1915 with the then-new invention known as the motion picture camera.
Degas, who would die in 1917, had by the time of this walk reached his eighties, having put his artistic work behind him at least three years before. With his longtime residence on rue Victor-Massé just about to go under the wrecking ball, he moved over to Boulevard de Clichy, where he lived out his days walking the streets in the very manner we see in this snippet of film.
But even as Degas roamed Paris so restlessly and aimlessly, other French painters and sculptors did the work that would put their own names into the art-history pantheon. In the video just above, you can see a 74-year-old Claude Monet — also at quite an advanced age for the time — doing a bit of outdoor painting in his garden at Giverny in 1915, the very year we saw Degas strolling past us with his hat and umbrella.
Here, you can see several shots of the sculptor Auguste Rodin in action, also in 1915, two years before his death, as Mike Springer previously wrote here. The clip’s first sequence “shows the artist at the columned entrance to an unidentified structure, followed by a brief shot of him posing in a garden somewhere. The rest of the film, beginning at the 53-second mark, was clearly shot at the palatial, but dilapidated, Hôtel Biron, which Rodin was using as a studio and second home.”
Mike also covered the fourth French-artist film from 1915 we have here, three minutes of footage of Auguste Renoir in which “we see the 74-year-old master seated at his easel, applying paint to a canvas while his youngest son Claude, 14, stands by to arrange the palette and place the brush in his father’s permanently clenched hand.” Though in several ways debilitated by age, Renoir continued to create, and you can read more about his struggle, as well as the project of the young filmmaker who shot several of these now-invaluable pieces of film, at the original post. And if you want to see more of these artists you may know only as names from art-history textbooks brought to life, if only for a few moments, have a look at our roundup of iconic artists at work.
Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, and the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.