With a letter dated Paris, le 7 décembre 2000, Brame & Lorenceau have confirmed the authenticity of the present work, which is sold with a photo-certificate from Professor Theodore Reff dated New York, N.Y. le 4 décembre 1990.
Very close to the drawing of the same subject and date in the Graphische Sammlung of the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (1854, fig. 1), Degas' depiction of his younger sister Marguerite belongs to the selected group of family portraits executed immediately before the artist's long study tour in Italy, between 1856 and 1859. Marguerite Degas, born in Paris in 1842, was 8 years younger than Edgar: with her regular features and romantic expressions, she became one of his favourite models and the subject of his most intimate juvenile drawings. After his return from Italy, Degas painted the two portraits of Marguerite which are now at the Musée d'Orsay (L60 and L61). In 1865, Marguerite married the architect and art critic Henri Fèvre, and later emigrated with him to Buenos Aires, where she died in 1895.
The portraits of his family and closest friends are Degas' first exempla of technical maturity and original approach to tradition. Deeply indebted to Ingres and the classical harmonies of Raphael, filtered through Ingres' style, his early portraits are never official portraits: he represented himself, his brothers and sisters, his cousins - not only because they were cheaper models, but for his attraction to sitters with whom he could share an intimate relationship, and would thus allow a new concentration on the model's moods and subtlest changes of expression. Since his early experiments in portraiture, Degas manifested his belonging to the tradition of the 'psychological portrait', rediscovered by the Romantics and taken to a new apogee by the maître de Montauban.
Marguerite Degas enfant, as the most accomplished amongst Degas' early works, can be seen as a palimpsest 'in which can be detected both a marked and constant attachment to the old masters and "clear signs of the modernism that would soon be his domain"' (A. André cited by H. Loyrette, Degas, exh. cat., New York, 1989, p. 35). If Raphael's selfportrait is the main archetype, quoted directly in Marguerite's pensive and self-absorbed gaze, Degas is also aware of Pontormo's technical virtuosities with the stumped sanguine, subtly conveying the expression of dreamy melancholy of the adolescent.