Musée d'Orsay: Edgar Degas Portrait of Edouard Manet

Edgar Degas
Portrait of Edouard Manet

Portrait of Edouard Manet
Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Portrait of Edouard Manet
Circa 1866-1868
Black lead
H. 40; W. 25.5 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Michèle Bellot

Portrait of Edouard Manet

After the scandal provoked by Déjeuner sur l'herbe at the 1863 Salon des Refusés, Manet progressively became the leading figure in the movement, dubbed "New Painting" in 1876 by the art critic, Duranty. Manet undoubtedly had a hand in bringing Degas - his friend and, at that time, little known artist - to the fore, encouraging him to abandon history painting for subjects from contemporary life.

This drawing is one of the best known in the French repertoire; a mythical testimony to a friendship which was decisive in the development of what came to be known as Impressionism. People of the time considered the portrait to be Manet's most faithful likeness. It is a masterpiece in its subtlety of line and the boldness of its placing on the page.

Degas had his model sitting sideways on a studio chair, looking tired and thoughtful, the high top hat, arrogant emblem of modernity and more a symbol of the man of the world than the artist, is tossed to the bottom left-hand corner of the foreground. It looks as if, rather than sitting for his portrait, Manet has been caught unawares. He is at rest, an attitude which appealed to Degas and which he would go on to use extensively with his dancers.

Degas portraits constitute a veritable psychological "exposure", revealing their models' inner state. As early as 1859, while questioning the art of portraiture, Degas wrote that he aimed "To find a composition that would depict our time".

Manet Dossier