Degas undertook racing scenes throughout his career, characteristically manipulating his horses and jockeys from one picture to the next. 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 in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence, which Degas had copied 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, and to provide a warm undertone for the turf in the foreground.
Inscription: Signed (lower left): Degas
Théodore Duret, Paris (until 1894; his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, March 19, 1894, no. 14, sold for Fr 1400); [Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, 1905; bought on March 15, 1905; stock no. 14079; sold same day to Petit]; [Georges Petit, Paris, from 1905]; [Jacques Dubourg, Paris, until 1935; sold to Wildenstein]; Wildenstein family, Paris (1935–63); [Wildenstein, New York, 1963–65; sold on September 22, 1965 to Annenberg]; Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, Rancho Mirage, Calif. (1965–99; jointly with MMA, 1999–his d. 2002)
New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "Degas's Racing World," March 21–April 27, 1968, no. 13.
London. Tate Gallery. "The Annenberg Collection," September 2–October 8, 1969, no. 11.
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Impressionism & Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection," May 21–September 17, 1989, unnumbered cat.
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "Masterpieces of Impressionism & Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection," May 6–August 5, 1990, unnumbered cat.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Impressionism & Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection," August 16–November 11, 1990, unnumbered cat.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Impressionism & Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection," June 4–October 13, 1991, unnumbered cat.
Julie Manet. Journal entry. March 17, 1894 [published in Julie Manet, "Journal (1893–1899): Sa jeunesse parmi les peintres impressionistes et les hommes de lettres," Paris, 1979, p. 30], mentions seeing a racehorse picture by Degas [this work] in the collection of Théodore Duret.
P[aul]. A[ndré]. Lemoisne. Degas et son œuvre. [reprint 1984]. Paris, [1946–49], vol. 3, pp. 492–93, no. 852, ill., dates it about 1885.
M. Roy Fisher. The Annenberg Collection. Exh. cat., Tate Gallery. London, 1969, unpaginated, no. 11, ill. (color), dates it about 1885; notes that the central jockey seems to have been based on a pencil drawing of Baron Lepic (1882; collection Mr. and Mrs. David L. Loew).
Fiorella Minervino inL'opera completa di Degas. Milan, 1970, pp. 118–19, no. 706, ill.
Jean Sutherland Boggs. "Degas at the Museum: Works in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and John G. Johnson Collection." Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 81 (Spring/Summer 1985), p. 41 n. 48.
Eunice Lipton. Looking into Degas: Uneasy Images of Women and Modern Life. Berkeley, 1986, p. 200 n. 1.
Michael Pantazzi inDegas. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. New York, 1988, p. 268, under no. 158, calls it a "vastly simplified reenactment of the design" of the oil on panel "Racehorses" (1875–78; Private collection; L387); erroneously identifies it as an oil painting.
Colin B. Bailey inMasterpieces of Impressionism & Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection. Ed. Colin B. Bailey, Joseph J. Rishel, and Mark Rosenthal. Exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 1991, pp. 16–17, 139–41, ill. (color and black and white), dates it 1885–88 and calls the use of pastel on panel extremely rare in Degas's oeuvre; cites Benozzo Gozzoli's fresco in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence as the starting point for this pastel; notes that the figures in this picture appeared numerous times in compositions of the 1860s and 1870s, most notably in the painting "The Gentleman's Race: Before the Start" (Musée d'Orsay, Paris; L461); states that the oil on panel "Racehorses" (begun in 1871–72 and reworked in 1876–78; private collection; L387) served as the original design for this pastel [see Ref. Pantazzi 1988] and mentions notebook sketches from 1881–84 and the drawing of Lepic as studies for it.
Jérôme Coignard. "Le Salon de peinture de Mr. et Mrs. Annenberg." Beaux arts no. 92 (July–August 1991), p. 65.
Ira Berkow. "Jewels in the Desert." Art News 97 (May 1998), p. 149.
Gary Tinterow in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1999–2000." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 58 (Fall 2000), pp. 5, 46, ill. (color), notes that Degas was displeased when Duret sold this picture at auction.
Colin B. Bailey inMasterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection. Ed. Susan Alyson Stein and Asher Ethan Miller. 4th rev. ed. [1st ed., 1989]. New York, 2009, pp. 42–47, no. 9, ill. (color).
The design for this composition appears in an earlier oil on panel of nearly identical size (1871–72, reworked 1876–78; Private collection; L387). A drawing of Baron Ludovic Lepic was used for the figure of the central jockey (1882; Private collection).