Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 2… Read more The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor
Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Autoportrait

Details
Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Autoportrait
stamped with the signature 'Degas' (Lugt 658; lower left)
oil on paper laid down on canvas
18½ x 12 5/8 in. (47 x 32 cm.)
Painted circa 1857-1858
Provenance
The artist's studio, Paris.
Jeanne Fèvre, Nice, by whom acquired from the above; sale, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 12 June 1934, lot 38.
Prince Ali Khan; sale, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 23 May 1957, lot 38.
Acquired at the above sale by Elizabeth Taylor.
Literature
P. Brame & T. Reff, Degas et son oeuvre, A Supplement, New York, 1984, no. 30, p. 32 (illustrated p. 33).
Exhibited
Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, on loan, 1959-1964 (no. L.2313.59-16).
Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, Monet to Matisse: French art in Southern California collections, June - August 1991, p. 30.
Special notice

VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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Adrienne Dumas
Adrienne Dumas

Lot Essay

Painted circa 1857-1858, this skillful and sensitive Autoportrait by Edgar Degas is one of a series of revealing self-portraits the artist executed in his early twenties, at the beginning of his career. Degas captured his own likeness in a range of media during a formative period which began in the 1850s and which lasted until the mid-1860s. Aware of Degas' particular gifts as a portraitist, and with an eye to its commercial viability, his father, in a letter of 1858, encouraged him to persevere with the genre, declaring that, 'portraiture will be one of the finest jewels in your crown' (quoted in P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, vol. I, Paris, 1946, p. 30). Indeed, not only were Degas' most important early works his self-portraits, a large number of which reside in museum collections, but between 1855 and the mid-1870s portraiture was the most significant genre within his oeuvre.

The present work was executed during Degas' time in Italy where, from July 1856 to April 1859, he spent considerable time visiting museums in Naples, Rome and Florence. Whilst there, he closely studied and relentlessly copied from the Old Masters, painting numerous likenesses of his Italian relatives as well as self-portraits. These works very much display the influence of the Old Masters, particularly that of Rembrandt, whose self-portraits served as a model for Degas' own. Degas' letters from this period reveal that his stay in Italy was marked by loneliness and introspection: 'Myself again. But what do you expect a man on his own and so abandoned to his own devices as I am to say? He has only himself in front of him, sees only himself, and thinks only of himself. He is a great egoist' (Degas, letter to G. Moreau, 7 September 1858, quoted in F. Baumann, 'Degas's Early Self-Portraits', in F. Baumann & M. Karabelnik, eds., Degas Portraits, London, 1994, p. 162).

Self-portraiture allowed the young Degas a means to practise his craft and hone his artistic skill without the need for a model. It also offered the youthful artist a tool for exploring his identity and of scrutinising his relationship to his developing career. As in his self-portrait currently in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Degas has presented himself here in his role as a working artist, clad in his artist's smock and bright violet kerchief. Placing himself against a dark background, and with eyes turned gently towards the viewer, Degas gazes out with an inquiring and somewhat melancholic expression. Soft contre-jour lighting bathes the right side of the artist's face in a warm light, casting the other side into shadow and lending the portrait a romantic aura, something which is also evident in his self-portraits at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown. The present portrait and that at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute share a freedom in handling that is far removed from the more austere, academic finish of his self-portraits executed just two years before, pre-figuring his association with the Impressionists.

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