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Degas loved to be seen amongst the French social elite and where better than the horse racing scene. It also provided inspiration for a major strand of work.
The artwork shown here, entitled At the Races, was produced somewhere between 1877-1880.
It is part of the Musee d’Orsay’s impressive collection of Degas’ work.
The composition here is relaxed, cropping elements seemingly at random. This approach was something he learnt from Japanese art. He was one of a number of French painters who adored multiple aspects of this exotic artistic style.
Indeed, many would collect Japanese prints themselves, as Degas had himself done.
This Frenchman had studied, and respected, the masters of centuries past in his early years. He was to add work from the likes of El Greco, Manet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Édouard Brandon. Three artists he particularly liked – Ingres, Delacroix and Daumier – were very prevalent in his collection. Japanese art always held a special place in his affections, though.
Degas was passionate about reflecting French life, at all levels. The social scene surrounding race horse meetings represented the elite of the country, the place to be seen. Its characters would differentiate from those found in his cafe scenes, such as L’Absinthe.
Many of his artwork on this theme would challenge the norm of the time, inspired partly by his own Japanese art collection, but also from his increased in photography. The idea of having the focal point moved into the corner of the painting, possibly even partially cropped was unusual.
List of Famous Edgar Degas Race Horse Paintings
- A Carriage at The Races, 1870
- Jockeys, 1881
- Race Horses, 1885-1888
- The False Start, 1860
- At the Races