Edgar Degas 1834-1917
N03157 Carlo Pellegrini c.1876-7
Inscribed 'à lui | Degas' b.l.
Oil on Ingres paper mounted on cardboard, 24 7/8 x 13 3/8 (63 x 34)
Presented by the National Art-Collections Fund, the purchase money being provided by Lord Duveen, 1916
Prov: Carlo Pellegrini, London; Louis Fagan, London, c.1889; Mrs C.F. Fagan, London, 1903; offered for sale on her behalf at Christie's, London, 27 May 1907, lot 32, and bt. in at 95 gns.; NACF 1916
Exh: French Paintings and Drawings,, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, February-April 1932 (31); French Art, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, April-June 1932 (122); Degas, RSA, Edinburgh, August-September 1952 (14); Tate Gallery, September-October 1952 (14); Sixty Years of Patronage, Arts Council Gallery, London, September-October 1965 (43)
Lit: 'Celebrities at Home No.MCLXXIII. Mr Max Beerbohm at No.48 Upper Berkeley Street' in The World, 5 December 1900, pp.8-9; P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son Oeuvre (Paris 1946), No.407, Vol.2, p.222, repr. p.223; Douglas Cooper, Pastelle von Edgar Degas (Basle 1952), p.17, repr. pl.6 in colour; Ronald Alley, 'Notes on some Works by Degas, Utrillo and Chagall in the Tate Gallery' in Burlington Magazine, C, 1958, p.171, repr. p.170; Jean Sutherland Boggs, Portraits by Degas (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1962), pp.53, 127, repr. pl.98; Franco Russoli and Fiorella Minervino, L'Opera Completa di Degas (Milan 1970), No.409, p.105, repr. p.106
Repr: Studio, XCV, 1928, p.82
This work was acquired by the National Art-Collections Fund from Mrs C.F. Fagan, the widow of Louis Fagan (1845-1903), assistant in the British Museum Print Room, who had received it from Pellegrini himself. Mrs Fagan told Sir Isidore Spielmann (letter of 29 November 1916 in the NACF files): 'Pellegrini gave my husband the Degas during his (Pellegrini's) last illness'. At that time his closest friends set up a fund for his support, and Mr and Mrs Fagan were amongst those who looked after him, keeping him supplied with money and food.
Carlo Pellegrini, the well-known portrait caricaturist, was born in Capua in 1839 and died in London in 1889. While still a youth he was a leader of fashion in Naples and was courted and flattered by Neapolitan society, which he in turn caricatured good-humouredly in thumbnail sketches. He settled in England in 1864 and turned his talent for caricature to good account as a contributor to Vanity Fair. His first published English drawing, a portrait of Disraeli, appeared in the issue of 30 January 1869 and bore the signature 'Singe' which he discarded soon afterwards for that of 'Ape'. His caricatures of politicians and men of the day, drawn almost entirely from memory, were extremely popular and initiated a new style of humorous portrait caricature which was followed by other contributors to Vanity Fair such as Leslie Ward (known as 'Spy').
One of his admirers and close friends was Whistler, who may have been responsible for introducing him to Degas. However they also had another mutual friend in James Tissot, who was then living in London and even shared from 1869 to 1877 the job of making caricatures for Vanity Fair. Degas was in correspondence with Tissot in the 1870s and spoke several times of going over to see him for a few days. His notebooks Bibliothêque Nationale carnet 7 (1876), p.4, and 3 (1877), pp.8 and 28, give Pellegrini's address as 8 George Street, Hanover Square, London. About 1876-7 Pellegrini painted a half-length portrait of Degas which he inscribed in the bottom left-hand corner 'à vous | Pellegrini'. The portrait by Degas, inscribed 'à lui | Degas', appears to have been a return present. (Pellegrini's portrait of him is reproduced in Paul Lafond, Degas, Paris 1918-19, Vol.1, p.107 and in the Burlington Magazine, C, 1958, p.169. Degas mentions it in an undated letter, cf. Degas Letters, ed. M. Guérin, Oxford 1947, No.46, pp.67-8. It was then in his possession, but he was preparing to send or rather return it to a friend, probably Paul Lafond, who owned it in 1918. A portrait of Degas by Pellegrini, probably the same one, was in the sale of the Manzi collection at the Galerie Manzi, Joyant on 13-14 March 1919, lot 82; its dimensions were given as 45 x 31 cm).
What makes the Tate's picture of particular interest is that Degas must surely have had in mind when he made it the kind of work for which Pellegrini was famous (compare, for instance, 'Conservative Conversion (A Portrait of Lord Wharncliffe)' published in Vanity Fair, 14 August 1875 [reproduced p.146; not reproduced here]). Not only is it closer to caricature than any other painting by Degas, but it resembles Pellegrini's contributions to Vanity Fair in its narrow upright format, general proportions, and in the silhouetting of the figure in an amusing and characteristic attitude. On the other hand, whereas Pellegrini generally places his figures against a neutral, unexplained background, Degas has chosen a high viewpoint and has brushed in some indications of the setting; also the relationship of the figure to the picture space is much more subtle.
Though this picture seems to have belonged to Mr and Mrs Fagan continuously from about 1889 to 1916, an article on Max Beerbohm and his home published in The World on 5 December 1900 mentions it as hanging on the wall, with a number of cartoons by Pellegrini. ('Here, too, is a speaking likeness of Pellegrini himself, in his habit as he lived, drawn for the caricaturist and inscribed 'A lui' by the master-hand of Degas').
Presumably the Fagans had lent it to him because of his great admiration for Pellegrini, whom he is said to have regarded as 'by far the best caricaturist who has lived within our time'.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.145-8, reproduced pp.145 and 146