EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
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EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
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EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Autoportrait, vers sa vingt-et-unième année

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
Autoportrait, vers sa vingt-et-unième année
pencil on paper
5 1/2 x 4 1/4 in. (14.1 x 10.8 cm.)
Executed circa 1855
The artist's estate.
Odette De Gas & Roland Nepveu, Paris, by descent from the above.
Hélène, Jean & Arlette Nepveu-Degas, and thence by descent; sale, Collection Nepveu-Degas, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 19 December 1994, lot 15.
Jan Krugier, Geneva, by whom acquired at the above sale; sale, Sotheby's, London, 6 February 2014, lot 101.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. Nepveu-Degas, La Jeune Parque: Huit sonnets d’Edgar Degas, Paris, 1946 (illustrated on the frontispiece).
P. Velery, Degas, Danse, Dessin, Paris, 1965, no. 98, p. 250 (illustrated fig. 98; dated ‘circa 1854’).
Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Linie, Licht und Schatten: Meisterzeichnungen und Skulpturen der Sammlung Jan und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, May - August 1999, no. 100, p. 214 (illustrated p. 215); this exhibition later travelled to:
Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, The Timeless Eye, Master Drawings from the Jan and Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski Collection, September - December 1999, no. 116, p. 246 (illustrated on the cover; illustrated again p. 247);
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Miradas sin tiempo: Dibugos, Pinturas y Esculturas de la Collección Jan y Marie-Anne Krugier Poniatowski, February - May 2000, no. 128, p. 288 (illustrated p. 289);
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, La passion du dessin: Collection Jan et Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, March - June 2002, no. 113, p. 250 (illustrated p. 251);
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Das ewige Auge - von Rembrandt bis Picasso: Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, July - October 2007, no. 112, p. 240 (illustrated p. 241).
Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, Degas: A Passion for Perfection, October 2017 - January 2018, no. 15, p. 243 (illustrated full page p. 45; illustrated again fig. 24, p. 48); this exhibition later travelled to Denver Art Museum, February - May 2018.
Further details
Theodore Reff has stated that, in his opinion, this work is by the hand of Edgar Degas.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

It would be misleading to classify Edgar Degas as a professional portraitist and yet portraiture – particularly self-portraits – was vital to the development of his emerging artistic idiom. After a brief spell studying law, in 1855 he enrolled at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, though he spent more time copying paintings at the Louvre and hanging around Louis Lamoth’s studio than in class. It was Lamoth who introduced Degas to Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ œuvre, whose work the elder painter collected. He passed on Ingres’ teachings including his devotion to the Italian masters and the cult of disegno. It is likely that Degas met Ingres that same year, an encounter that – though the finer details may have blurred in its many retellings – indelibly marked him. He never forgot Ingres’ advice: ‘Draw lines, young man, draw lines’ (J. Ingres quoted in J. Sutherland Boggs, Portraits by Degas, Berkeley, 1962, p. 5).
Drawn circa 1855, Autoportrait, vers sa vingt-et-unième année captures an artist on the brink, a person in the process of becoming. The sensitive depiction speaks to the still-evolving character of the young Degas, revealing a vast interiority – a soul. Indeed, his particular gift, that would become so apparent in later portraits, was how he made 'a mood emerge' in his paintings: 'The sitters were young, but in each, Degas makes us feel a character emerging’ (ibid., pp. 9-10).
At the Louvre, Degas made studies of Renaissance portraits including Bronzino’s Portrait de jeune homme tenant une statuette and Franciabigio’s Portrait d'homme. In her discussion of Degas’ early portraits, Jean Sutherland Boggs focussed on these two Old Master paintings and their impact on the artist’s evolving representation of the self: ‘We can reasonably ask why these portraits…should have attracted the twenty-year-old Degas. In all of them there is a sense of strongly defined pattern, with shapes of a certain character. The sitters are somewhat romanticised and vaguely discontent. They are male but not particularly virile; indeed they come close to effeminacy in their languor, in their gestures, and in their soft, sensual mouths’ (ibid., p. 6-7). While Degas has drawn himself in Autoportrait with more confidence than his Renaissance counterparts, the three portraits nevertheless share some of the same characteristics, seen in each sitter’s full mouth, subtle pout, and penetrating gaze.
Degas created over fifteen self-portraits including works now held in the collections of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, amongst others; it is likely that Autoportrait served as a study for Degas en gilet vert (Lemoisne, no. 11; Private collection). Self-portraiture enabled the young artist to practice his craft without the need for a model. It also offered a means to explore questions of identity and personal mythology. As a genre, self-portraiture is one that, for all its seeming legibility, remains steeped in enigma. Although apparently truthful, the self-portrait is a staged and self-styled presentation, a visual construct of the artist’s own making. Such works can serve as artistic manifestos, autobiographical markers, or, in the case of Degas, as both. Here was a man ready to launch himself into the world, both personally and professionally.
In addition to his own visage, Degas began to paint his friends and family, but it was the self-portraits that remained his most important early works. In July of 1856, shortly after the completion of Autoportrait, Degas left for Naples, and he would remain in Italy for three years. But the Degas who left France at age twenty-two, argues Henri Loyrette, ‘was more than a novice’, a fact which owed much to the many hours he spent dutifully studying his own face (H. Loyrette in Degas, exh. cat., Galeries Nationals du Grand Palais, Paris, p. 38). In this respect, Degas fashioned his own training, one that was rooted in an understanding of, and profound sympathy, for individual lives. ‘From his apprentice years,’ writes Loyrette, ‘Degas occupied a place apart in French painting that would always be his own – one that defied both comparison and classification’ (ibid.).
Degas never sold Autoportrait, vers sa vingt-et-unième année. The work remained in his family for more than a century passing down to his niece Odette and to the Nepveu-Degas great-nieces and -nephews.

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