- Edgar Degas
- Stamped with the signature (lower right)
- Oil on card laid down on canvas
René de Gas, Paris (the artist’s brother; sold: Vente René de Gas, Paris, November 10, 1927, lot 75)
Dr. Georges Viau, Paris (sold: Première Vente, Succession Georges Viau, Paris, December 11, 1942, no. 87)
Luigi Corbellini, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
Bergengren Collection, Lund, Sweden
Galerie Europe, Paris
Mr. & Mrs. John Hay Whitney (acquired from the above on December 21, 1959)
Estate of John Hay Whitney (sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 10, 1999, lot 13)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, Fem sekler Fransk Konst (Cinq siècles d’art français), 1958, no. 147
Paris, Galerie Europe, circa 1959, no. 35
London, The Tate Gallery, The John Hay Whitney Collection, 1960-61, no. 15, illustrated in the catalogue
Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, The John Hay Whitney Collection, 1983, no. 10, illustrated in the catalogue
Marcel Guérin, Dix-Neuf portraits de Degas par lui-même, Paris, 1931, illustrated
Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, vol. 2, Paris, 1946, no. 104, illustrated p. 53 (titled Degas)
ArtNews, New York, January 1961, illustrated p. 26
Jean Sutherland Boggs, Portraits by Degas, Berkeley and Lost Angeles, 1962, pp. 19-20, illustrated pl. 32
Ian Dunlop, Degas, New York, 1979, illustrated p. 33
Richard Kendall, ed. Degas by Himself, New York, 1987, illustrated in color p. 71
"Make portraits of people in typical, familiar poses," Degas wrote in his notebooks in the late 1860s, "being sure above all to give their faces the same kind of expression as their bodies." It is this candor and lack of artifice that we see here in Degas's rare self-portrait from 1862. The present work is one of two likenesses that Degas painted of himself with an open collar and uncombed hair, appearing in sharp contrast to the his refined work-in-progress, begun in 1858, of the Bellelli family (Musée d'Orsay, Paris). The starkness of the palette and ambiguity of Degas' gaze have invited considerable critical analysis, including M. Guérin's observation that this picture betrays a darkly romantic attitude "seldom to be found in Degas' work and which differentiates it from previous portraits, so simple and of such peaceful gravity" (quoted in The John Hay Whitney Collection (exhibition catalogue), op. cit.,no. 15).
Degas' self-portraits provide one of the few insights into the character of a man whose personal life was generally a mystery. The critic Edmond Duranty would devote a lengthy defense of Impressionist painting by describing Degas' exacting eye for detail and the nuances of the body, As in the self-portraiture of Rembrandt, Degas is unflinching in his representation of self, focusing on the intensity the face rather than embellishing the surrounding space with distracting background detail. This haunting portrait remained with Degas until his death in 1917, and it was kept in the family collection until it was sold in his brother's estate sale in 1927.
Jean Sutherland Boggs provides an analytical description of Degas' self-portraiture and the implications of the exercise: “About 1863 [Degas] painted two self-portraits [the present work and Lemoisne no. 103] in which he appears older and more vigorous than his earlier portraits had shown him to be. His white blouse is open at the chest, his beard has grown generously, his thick hair sprouts irregularly from his head. He tosses his head back, and his eyes peer forth from under half-shut lids, his expression and attitude one of suspicion and defiance. All this is painted boldly with an exaggerated emphasis upon form in which the influence of Courbet’s self-portraits is apparent. Marcen Guérin in his catalogue of the self-portraits wrote of one of these: ‘It is almost a painfully expressive head. Was it a voluntary exploration? Is it simply the unconscious reflection of preoccupations, of sufferings, and cares of the moment? We do not know anything of the intimate life of Degas and it is impossible to make even any conjectures and suppositions.’ Apparently his family was bewildered by him at this time. In 1863 his eighteen-year-old brother René wrote to New Orleans about him at this time: ‘He works furiously and thinks only of one thing, his painting’” (Jean Sutherland Boggs, op cit., pp. 19-20).