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

Cheval se cabrant

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Cheval se cabrant
stamped with the signature 'Degas' (Lugt 658), numbered and stamped with the foundry mark 'CIRE PERDUE A.A.HÉBRARD 4/I' (on the top of the base)
bronze with brown patina
Height: 12 1/4 in. (31 cm.)
Original wax model executed circa mid-late 1880s - 1890s; cast from 1920-1921 by the A.A. Hébrard foundry in an edition of twenty, numbered A to T, plus two casts reserved for the Degas heirs and the founder; the present work was cast by 1921
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Zurich, by whom acquired on 26 January 1922.
William Cuendet, Zurich, by whom acquired from the above on 9 February 1922, and thence by descent; sale, Sotheby's, London, 3 February 2016, lot 15.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. Rewald, Degas, Works in Sculpture, A Complete Catalogue, New York, 1944, no. XIII, p. 20 (another cast illustrated pp. 48-51).
J. Rewald, Degas's Sculpture, The Complete Works, London, 1957, no. XIII (another cast illustrated pls. 15-19).
F. Russoli & F. Minervino, L'opera completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, no. S44 (another cast illustrated).
C.W. Millard, The Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Princeton, 1976, no. 10 (another cast illustrated).
J. Rewald, Degas's Complete Sculpture, Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1990, no. XIII, pp. 68-69 (the wax version and another cast illustrated).
A. Pingeot, Degas Sculptures, Paris, 1991, no. 44 (another cast illustrated).
S. Campbell, Degas, 'The Sculptures, A Catalogue Raisonné', in Apollo, no. 402, vol. CXLII, August 1995, no. 4, p. 13 (another cast illustrated).
J.S. Czestochowski & A. Pingeot, Degas Sculptures, Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes, Memphis, 2002, no. 4, p. 129 (another cast illustrated).
S. Campbell, R. Kendall, D. Barbour & S. Sturman, Degas in the Norton Simon Museum, vol. II, Nineteenth-Century Art, Pasadena, 2009, p. 506 (with incorrect provenance; another cast illustrated no. 4).
S. Glover Lindsay, D.S. Barbour & S.G. Sturman, Edgar Degas Sculpture, Washington, D.C., 2010, no. 10, p. 94 (another cast illustrated p. 95).
Zurich, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Exposition des sculptures de Degas, October - November 1921, no. 44.
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Lot Essay

Initially conceived in the 1880s, Cheval se cabrant is one of Edgar Degas’ most expressive, finely rendered and formally sophisticated sculptural representations of the horse. Other examples of this dynamic portrayal of a rearing horse now reside in museum collections across the world, including the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Norton Simon Museum, California. Sculpture was a central yet private pursuit for Degas. ‘Whenever I called on Degas’, the dealer Joseph Durand-Ruel recalled, ‘I was almost as sure to find him modelling clay as painting’ (J. Durand-Ruel, quoted in A. Dumas, ‘Degas: Sculptor/Painter’, in J.S. Czestochowski & A. Pingeot, Degas Sculpture: Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes, Memphis, 2002, p. 39). By the mid 1870s, Degas had become obsessed by the depiction of horses, using this theme as a means of exploring movement in both his painting and sculpture. Manipulating the highly pliable wax over improvised armatures, Degas explored the natural movement of horses while at the same time pursuing this same theme with his modelled dancing figures. Degas was so absorbed by these equine figures that in 1888, he gave them priority over his series of pastel bathers, as he wrote to Albert Bartholomé, ‘I have not yet made enough horses. The women must wait in their basins’ (Degas, quoted in J.S. Boggs, exh. cat., Degas at the Races, Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 197).

Movement and drama are conveyed in Cheval se cabrant through the dynamic, balking pose of the horse’s body and head. Depicted in a particularly agitated state, the horse is seemingly attempting to free itself from the unseen presence of a jockey or the civilising reigns and harnesses. The sinuous curves of the horse’s body – the sweeping arabesques of its torso and neck – lend it a sense of supreme elegance, while the heavily modelled surface heightens the power that radiates from its thrusting pose. It is however the horse’s head which is, in the words of the scholar Gary Tinterow ‘more finely rendered and more expressively satisfying than any other by Degas' (G. Tinterow, in J. Sutherland Boggs et al., exh. cat., Degas, New York, 1998, p. 462). With flared nostrils, bulging eyes and an open mouth, the horse is imbued with an impressive sense of vitality, filling the inanimate bronze with a visceral life force.

Cheval se cabrant demonstrates Degas’ ability at simultaneously capturing the thrusting power of the animal as well the elegant, almost balletic movement as it rears upwards, its neck flung backwards in a dramatic and fleeting pose. An adept rider himself, Degas was extremely familiar with horses and often frequented the racetrack at Longchamps. However, it was the revolutionary ‘stop-motion’ photography of Eadweard Muybridge that served as the leading impetus for Degas in his three-dimensional depiction of horses. Published for the first time in 1878, Muybridge’s radical photographs captured animals, including horses, in motion, revolutionising the understanding of animal movement. ‘Even though I had the opportunity to mount a horse quite often, even though I could distinguish a thoroughbred from a half-bred without too much difficulty’, Degas later explained, ‘even though I had a fairly good understanding of the animal’s anatomy, I was completely ignorant of the mechanism of its movements [before Muybridge]’ (Degas, quoted in J.S. Boggs, exh. cat., Degas at the Races, Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 185). 

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