Edgar Degas, auto-portrait
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Edgar Degas        1834-1917
The digital critical catalogue
Launching September 17th, 2019
by Michel Schulman

Edgar Degas en Normandie. Le peintre du cheval et des courses

Between the dancers and the bathers, the theme of horses takes full place in the work of Edgar Degas. If his paintings of horses get the better in a largest public and private collections, his numerous drawings and pastels - often preparatory - bring additional light to his vision...

Couverture du livre de Mariel Oberthür

Between the dancers and the bathers, the theme of horses takes its place in the work of Edgar Degas. If his paintings of horses triumph in all largest public and private collections, his numerous drawings and pastels - often preparatory - bring additional light to his vision - and his passion - for horses he "discovered" in the early 1860s when visiting his friends, the Valpinçon family.

Through this book, Mariel Oberthür dedicates a work on this subject which fully proves her deep knowledge of horses and, more generally, of the equestrian world.

Degas meet horses during his first stay with his friends Valpinçon in 1861. He couldn't have been better place because their residence the Ménil-Hubert was just in the middle of the green hills of the Orne, the country of horses and Haras du Pin, created by Louis XIV, which was to become an equestrian center of international renown. Degas makes numerous drawings, fills nearly thirty notebooks which will then be used to make his paintings in his Parisian atelier.

Paintings, he will make remarkable, never - in our opinion - sublime like his pastels. Often, they represent horses at rest, waiting for the start of the race or exercising in search of calm before galloping. Several works in museums put them in this situation, including Le défilé (Fig. 123, p. 137) and Le faux départ (Fig. 94, p. 107). As for La sortie du pesage (Fig. 113, p. 127), a man carefully watches parade horses mounted by calm and attentive jockeys except the one who holds his horse to the left of the picture. The Champ de course (Fig. 112, p. 125) is also a significant picture in that it shows not only a competition but also an atmosphere with, in the distance, a village "hanging" on a hill, in the middle an equestrian scene and, in the foreground, a car with elegant people, a painting with an original and ambitious framing that gives it all its interest. Sometimes, the painting like Avant la course from the National Gallery in Washington (Fig. 111, p. 123) adds to the sporting event a social note as can be seen through the smoking chimneys which testify the industrial activity then in full swing.

In Degas, horses are rarely at a gallop, as is the case with certain English and American painters of the same period - or almost - such as Stubbs and Herring. Their connection - and their distinction - have been clearly underlined at the Country Life exhibition held in Paris in 2018 where Degas' horses appear at a standstill.

It is undoubtedly in his pastels and his drawings that Degas' talent best expresses the movement and the skills of horses. We will thus keep in mind Le Jockey. Cheval au trot from the Philadelphia Art Museum (Fig. 14, p. 67), Les Quatres Jockeys from the Yale University Art Gallery (Fig. 141, p. 159), and Le Jockey au casque bleu vu de dos of the Richmond Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Fig. 59, p. 74), certainly a painting that looks more like a pastel than an oil. But it is in sculpture that Degas becomes master of the movement of horses. He fully expresses his mastery of forms. Through his sculptures, Degas shapes horses, respects and restores their stature and their dynamics. We might be entitled to ask : did sculpture have the goal to replace his paintings and pastels? Worried about his beginning blindness, Degas could then legitimately devote himself to sculpture with its forms and volumes that were easier to tame. This is not the case since Degas began to sculpt in 1880, performing his Petite danseuse de Quatorze Ans in 1881.

Mariel Oberthür's work is to be marked with a white stone. She took care to add to her description of horses an historical and social approach to this world at that time. We will remember, for example, the visit to the Haras du Pin by Napoleon III in 1863.

This book is written. It was missing, the dance world alone monopolizing all the glances interested in Degas.

Mariel Oberthür, Edgar Degas en Normandie. Le peintre du cheval et des courses, Gourcuff Gradenigo editions, Paris, 2019.

Contact: mariel.oberthur@gmail.com

Publication : 25-02-2020