Race Horses, 1885–88
Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917)
Pastel on wood; 11 7/8 x 16 in. (30.2 x 40.6 cm)
The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Gift of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 1999, Bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002 (1999.288.3)
Degas remained faithful to racing scenes throughout his career, stepping up their production in the 1880s. He manipulated his horses and jockeys from one picture to the next—enlarging, reversing, or reducing them to fit the background. Indeed, all the figures here appear in earlier works, and some of the poses have pedigrees even more distinguished than the horses: the prancing mount and rider at the center derive from Benozzo Gozzoli's Journey of the Magi (1459; Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence), which Degas copied in Florence in 1859. This picture is nevertheless unusual for its medium—pastel on a plain, unvarnished panel. With skillful economy of means, Degas allowed the wood to color the sky and distant landscape, which suggests a village in Normandy, and to provide a warm undertone for the turf in the foreground.