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Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Cheval s'enlevant sur l'obstacle

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Cheval s'enlevant sur l'obstacle
signed 'Degas' (Lugt 658; on the front of the base); numbered and stamped with foundry mark '48/K A.A. HEBRARD CIRE PERDUE' (on the back of the base)
bronze with dark brown patina
Height: 10 5/8 in. (27 cm.)
Original wax model executed between 1882-1895 and cast in an edition of twenty-two, numbered A-T plus two casts reserved for the Degas heirs and the founder Hébrard; marked 'HER' and 'HER.D' respectively
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 30 June 1987, lot 3.
Acquavella Galleries Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
J. Rewald, Degas Works in Sculpture: A Complete Catalogue, New York, 1944, p. 43 (another cast ilustrated, pl. IX).
J. Rewald, Edgar Degas, Original Wax Sculptures, New York, 1955, no. 9 (original wax model illustrated).
J. Rewald, L'Oeuvre sculpté de Degas, Zurich, 1957, p. 144, no. IX (another cast illustrated, pls. 10 and 11; fig 4. and p. 145).
F. Russoli and F. Minervino, L'Opera Completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, no. S43 (another cast illustrated).
C.W. Millard, The Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Princeton, 1976 (original wax model illustrated, pl. 66).
A. Pingeot and F. Horvat, Degas Sculptures, Paris, 1990, pp. 84-85, no. 43 (another cast illustrated; another cast illustrated again, p. 173).
J. Rewald, Degas' Complete Sculpture, Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1990, p. 33 (another cast illustrated, pl. IX).
S. Campbell, "Degas, The Sculptures: A Catalogue Raisonné," in Apollo, August 1995, p. 34, no. 48 (another cast illustrated).
J.S. Czestochowski and A. Pingeot, Degas Sculptures, Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes, Memphis, 2002, pp. 214 and 215, no. 48 (another cast illustrated).

Lot Essay

Cheval s'enlevant sur l'obstacle is cast from one of the equine statues that Degas modeled in wax between 1882 and 1895. He executed drawings and wax figures as studies in movement and kept them in his studio as he completed his paintings of racing scenes. Manipulating the highly pliable wax over improvised armatures, Degas explored the movements of these animals while pursuing the same theme with his modeled dancing figures. Commenting on Degas' use of these drawings and statues, Anne Dumas has noted: "Degas was obsessed, above all, with the figure, with movement and pose. Drawing for him was a way of discovering and capturing motion and posture. His sculpture can perhaps be seen as an extension to drawing, a means by which Degas could work through his ideas in a direct, tactile and three-dimensional form, and a fresh arena in which to work out problems. Like his printmaking, sculpture was a particularly experimental form" (in J.S. Czestochowski and A. Pingeot, eds. Degas Sculptures: Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes, Memphis, 2003, p. 40). Degas was so absorbed by these equine figures that in 1888 he chose them over his series of pastel bathers, stating, "I haven't yet done enough horses. The women must wait in their tubs" (quoted in ibid., p.15).

The present sculpture represents Degas' penchant for depicting lively or even willful horses during the 1880s. Here, the artist manifests his familiarity with horses and their temperaments, displaying a firsthand knowledge that was rooted in his frequent observation of racehorses at the Jockey Club in Paris or at the racetrack at Argentan near Ménil-Hubert, the family estate of his friend Paul Valpinçon in Normandy. Degas first visited Valpinçon in the fall of 1861, and sketched at the national horse-breeding establishment, Haras-le-Pin. Over the next two decades, Degas frequented racetracks regularly, making copious notes and sketches and using them in paintings of horses, jockeys, and the Parisian crowd at Longchamp racetrack in the Bois de Boulogne.

The pose of the horse seen here underscores the influence of Edweard Muybridge's stop-action photographs of horses in motion on Degas' sculptures during the 1880s. Muybridge lectured throughout Europe in 1881 and 1882 and published a compilation of his images entitled Animal Locomotion in 1887, a few of which Degas rendered as monochromatic drawings. Degas' sculpted leaping horse emulates a pose seen in Muybridge's photographs (fig. 1), but the position of the legs also reflects the artist's practice of altering the accurate, photo-documented positions to create a more dramatic effect. Indeed, the dynamism that Degas captures in this work has led to debate as to whether the horse is balking before an obstacle or simply clearing it; however, a comparison with Muybridge photos suggests that the animal is about to jump a hurdle. Charles Millard has noted the complex position of the horse's legs in present sculpture and has commented that this bronze "is spatially the most sophisticated of Degas' horses... It combines the forward, backward, rising, and twisting motions in the closest approximation of a centripetal spiraling movement possible with a four-legged animal. The turning of the head, the spreading of the rear legs, and the fact that the horse rises on those legs have allowed Degas to bring front and hind legs into greater proximity than in any other of his horses, thereby permitting him to make finer adjustments of the sculptural spaces. Those spaces, most striking when the front legs are seen through the spread rear legs, are more continuous in their opening and closing and more tightly woven through the figure even than those of the Little Dancer" (in ibid, p. 68-69).

(fig. 1) Edweard Muybridge, 1888. BARCODE 24410298

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