DescriptionEdgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Esquisse pour un portrait de M. et Mme. Louis Rouart, 1904
Pastel and charcoal on paper laid on board
31-3/4 x 37-7/8 inches (80.5 x 96.5 cm)
Stamped signature lower left
Estate of the artist;
Galeries Georges Petit, Paris, 1ère Vente Atelier Edgar Degas, May 6-8, 1918, lot 225;
Sommer collection, Paris;
Galerie Royale, J. Breckpot, Brussels, 1924;
Cleomir Jussiant collection, Antwerp;
Private collection, Europe.
P.-A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Vol. III, Paris, 1946, no. 1441, illustrated p. 821 (with the measurements 100 x 100 cm);
F. Russoli & F. Minervino, L'Opera complete di Degas, Milan, 1970, mentioned p. 139;
Degas (exhibition catalogue), Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Musée des Beaux-Arts du Canada, Ottawa; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1988-9, mentioned p. 485.
Brame & Lorenceau has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
After 1900, Edgar Degas essentially stopped producing portraits even though they had been a primary and profoundly expressive subject for him for the greater part of his artistic career. The reason for this shift was that he was battling deteriorating eyesight, not to mention feelings of overwhelming discouragement because of it. Capturing a likeness can be a fairly sensitive undertaking at any juncture, let alone when the artist was working in defiance of an eye disease that would eventually blind him. There was, however, one notable exception to Degas' total abandonment of portraiture in his late period, and that was the series of eight remarkable pastel portraits he produced between 1904 and 1905 which record the likenesses, if not more importantly the relationships, between some members of the Rouart family, perhaps the closest and most steadfast friends of the painter's life. This large pastel, a double portrait of the married couple Louis Rouart and Christine Lerolle, belongs to this series. There had to have been a great deal of comfort and trust between Degas and M. and Mme. Rouart for him to have undertaken these works at the juncture he did.
Degas had a particular fondness for Louis Rouart, the fourth, youngest, and smallest son of Degas' great friend Henri Rouart, the great industrialist, painter and art collector whom Degas painted many times. Both Louis Rouart and Degas himself had lost their mothers at a young age, and this fact created a particular bond of sympathy between them. Louis Rouart would go on to commit himself to the revival of Catholicism in France; he became the founder of the periodical L'Occident, and the publisher and director of the Librairie d'Art Catholique, which would publish books on such religious painters as Fra Angelico and Raphael. His bookishness, and a certain distracted aloofness was not lost on Degas, who factors these traits into his portraits. Christine Lerolle was the daughter of noted fin-de-siècle painter Henri Lerolle. The two families were linked not simply through marriage but through commerce, having gone into business together publishing music as the firm of Rouart Lerolle.
The pastels in this series are large-scale, like the present work, and focus on the relationship of Christine and Louis as suggested through the way Degas posed them in compositions that revolve around a chair. Of the eight pastels, three are finished works in their own right and five are studies. Of the three finished works, two are composed vertically and only one horizontally. The present work is a study for the only horizontal composition of the series. The vivid greens and blue-greens describing the background suggest an outdoor setting which, in fact, is more fully developed in the final work. The final composition has the addition of three thick tree trunks behind the couple, reinforcing the suggestion by scholars that the scene is set in a park at La Queue-en-Brie.
In each pastel in the series, the couple is posed with their backs to one another. Christine Rouart is seated in each of the compositions, either looking over her shoulder at her husband, or turning to look out of the image. Her husband, on the other hand, is shown in a much greater variety of poses, sometimes standing and turning away from his wife reading a book, other times standing behind her chair turning more towards the viewer, or as in the present work, seated with his back to his wife but swiveling around as though he is preparing to respond to something she has just said. Of all the compositions of the couple, this one gives the greatest sense of connection. Mme. Rouart is animated and energized, with her hand raised in the air from the elbow at the center of the composition. She turns toward her husband, her lips parted slightly as though she is in mid-speech. Although he is the figure drawn with more variety of pose in the series, Louis Rouart appears more subdued and inert. Degas manages the contradiction so artfully. Despite the efforts to engage, the couple nonetheless remains back-to-back, suggesting at once a host of consonances and dissonances that separate the parties. It is noteworthy that Degas chose to draw the couple so many times, with so much variation, as though one configuration was a woefully insufficient summary of a relationship that clearly had strains and palpable undercurrents as well as longevity. In some ways the portrait is at once very specific to these two people, but asserts itself as a larger statement as well. Its scale, its boldness and its graphic exhilaration strongly suggest that Degas was working hard to express something that he believed to be new and important. The 20th century had arrived with its new rules and confusion, and the traditional portrait formula simply no longer applied.
Moderate light staining and some foxing, most notably along top edge; a tiny approx. 1/4 inch hairline abrasion at lower right edge (barely visible when framed); not examined out of frame due to framing under acrylic. Framed Dimensions 44 X 49 X 2 Inches
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