Edgar Degas

Horse Clearing an Obstacle


Not on display

Edgar Degas 1834–1917
Original title
Cheval s'enlevant sur l'obstacle
Object: 305 × 387 × 241 mm
Presented by the Art Fund 1952

Display caption

Unlike many of his fellow Impressionists, Degas did not depict the pastoral delights of outdoor leisure pursuits, such as boating or picnics, or practise landscape painting as an end in itself. He chose instead to concentrate on the seamier sides of life, making down-to-earth paintings of laundresses, ballet dancers and women at their toilet. He also executed a number of works on the themes of horses and horse-racing. From about 1880, when his eyesight was failing. Degas turned to making sculptures on a relatively small scale. This particular work, together with a number of other bronzes of horses, is thought to have been inspired by the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge showing horses in motion.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Edgar Degas 1834-1917

N06072 Cheval s'enlevant sur l'Obstacle (Horse clearing an Obstacle) c.1887-9

Stamped 'Degas', '48/T' and founder's stamp 'CIRE | PERDUE | A.A. HÉBRARD' on base
Bronze, 12 1/8 x 15 1/4 x 9 3/8 (31 x 38.5 x 23.7), the depth being that of the metal base
Purchased from Marlborough Fine Art (Grant-in-Aid) with the aid of the NACF 1952
Prov: Puvis de Chavannes, Paris (son-in-law of Mme Hébrard); with Marlborough Fine Art, London
Lit: Paul-André Lemoisne, 'Les Statuettes de Degas' in Art et Décoration, XXVI, 1919, pp.110-11; John Rewald, 'Degas Dancers and Horses' in Art News, XLIII, 1944, pp.21-2; John Rewald, Degas: Works in Sculpture (New York 1944), No.IX, pp.4-6, 20, repr. p.43; Marcel Guérin (ed.), Edgar Germain Hilaire Degas: Letters (Oxford 1947), No.3, p.124; Paul Valéry, Degas Danse Dessin (Paris 1949), p.64; John Rewald, Degas: Sculpture (London 1957), No.IX, pp.14-16, 142, repr. pls.10-11, and fig.4; Aaron Scharf, Art and Photography (London 1968), pp.158-60; Michèle Beaulieu, 'Les Sculptures de Degas: Essai de Chronologie' in Revue du Louvre, XIX, No.6, 1969, p.372; Charles W. Millard, The Sculpture of Edgar Degas (Princeton 1976), pp.4-6, 20-3, 40, 59, 100, wax repr. pl.66
Repr: Herbert Read, The Art of Sculpture (London 1956), pl.192

Degas' interest in the sculpture of horses (connected with his interest in racecourse scenes) is said by Lemoisne to have been stimulated by the example of his friend the animal sculptor Joseph Cuvelier, who exhibited bronzes of horses at the Salon between 1865 and 1870. However Lemoisne's further suggestion that he stopped making sculpture of horses after Cuvelier's death in the Franco-Prussian War is certainly incorrect, as he is said by Paul Valéry and others to have been influenced by the photographs of horses in motion taken by Eadweard Muybridge, which did not become known in France until after 1878. His sculpture of a 'Horse trotting' (Rewald No.XI), for instance, seems to have been inspired by Muybridge's photographs of 'The Trot', first published in France in 1881, which proved for the first time that at certain phases of the trot none of the horse's hooves touches the ground.

Charles W. Millard, who believes that Degas probably did not begin making sculpture until the 1870s, has suggested that his earliest sculptures of horses, made before about 1881, include 'Horse standing'; 'Mustang'; 'Horse walking' (No.X); 'Horse at Trough'; 'Thoroughbred'; and 'Horse walking' (No.IV), in roughly that order. This gives a progression from less to more 'painterly', and from less to more movemented. In addition, Aaron Scharf has pointed out that several of Degas' drawings in charcoal and pastel are literal transcriptions of the horse Annie G., to be found in volume nine of Animal Locomotion, Muybridge's most extensive collection of consecutive series photographs published considerably later, in 1887, and that some of Degas' sculpted horses also relate closely to other photographs in Animal Locomotion. Degas' remark 'I have not yet done enough horses' written to his friend the sculptor Bartholomé in or about 1888 may have been connected with his interest in this new publication. The present work would appear to have been based on Muybridge's photographs of 'The Leap', and can probably be dated about 1887-9. Millard suggests that the later horse sculptures were made in the years 1881-90, in roughly the following order: 'Draught Horse'; 'Horse with Head lowered'; 'Horse galloping' (No.VI); 'Horse galloping' (Nos.XIV-XV); 'Horse galloping, Feet not touching the Ground'; 'Horse trotting'; 'Horse clearing an Obstacle'; 'Rearing Horse'; and 'Prancing Horse', with a development from less to more movemented poses, in which case this would have been one of the last.

The original of this work is in yellow wax; a piece of wire shows in the tail.

Published in:
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.152-3, reproduced p.152


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