The present work is part of an important series of mixed media drawings executed in 1868-70, when Degas was first experimenting with the form of the jockey. In many of these works, the jockey portrayed could be the same one from two points of view. Some of them are stained with dark brown essence; this one is notably light-filled. Writing about this group, Jean Sutherland Boggs commented on the present work: “The light is so luminous that is seems to dissolve the substance of the body of the second jockey so that all that is left are rudimentary but highly graphic lines. Even in the front jockey at the left Degas works freely with line, changing his mind and leaving the evidence of it generously, as if the lines were the body of the jockey vibrating in space.1
The parallels between Degas’ depictions of dancers and those of horses have often been pointed out by art historians. In the same way as the artist often captured ballet dancers away from the spotlight of the stage, in the more informal moments such as warming up before a performance or resting after a rehearsal, his horse paintings usually focus on the moments before or after the race. Although the technique with which Degas depicted horses and riders underwent a radical change from the more academic style of his earliest treatments of this subject in the 1860s to the later, Impressionist works, the focus away from the main action of the horse race is always present. The present work and the other drawings from this series were indispensable to the artist’s later racehorse paintings, such as Chevaux de courses of circa 1869-72 (fig. 1) where Degas shows seven jockeys in relaxed poses, moving in different directions.
These jockeys from the 1968-70 series are remarkable examples of Degas’ draftsmanship with paint and highly sympathetic records of the jockeys themselves, if not as individuals then as an essential type within the artist's work.
1. J. S. Boggs, in Degas at the Races (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 138
Fig. 1, Edgar Degas, Chevaux de courses, circa 1869-72, peinture à l’essence on paper, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
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