Criminal Physiognomies (1881) by Edgar Degas

Criminal Physiognomies - Edgar Degas - 1881

Artwork Information

TitleCriminal Physiognomies
ArtistEdgar Degas
Art MovementImpressionism
Current LocationPrivate Collection

About Criminal Physiognomies

The artwork titled “Criminal Physiognomies” was created by the artist Edgar Degas in 1881. It is executed in pastel, a medium for which Degas is renowned, particularly within the Impressionist movement—an art movement with which Degas had a complex association, often focusing on subjects of modern life rather than purely landscape or historical themes. Classified as a portrait, this piece exists within a private collection.

The artwork portrays two male figures in profile, set against a nondescript, muted background. The use of pastel allows for soft yet precise delineation of features, highlighting the physiognomy, which was an interest of the time in relation to character and criminality. The artwork captures the subtleties of human features in a manner that suggests these were likely real individuals, possibly observed by Degas himself. The figures are rendered with an economy of stroke that nonetheless conveys a strong sense of character and mood. The man on the left appears to be interacting with an object, bringing focus to the movement and shape of his hands and the contour of his face, while the man on the right is shown in a more passive stance. Both subjects are depicted with a considered interplay of light and shadow that gives depth to their forms and an immediacy to their presence. Degas’s signature on the lower right corner affirms the artwork’s authenticity, and the overall style is consistent with his known exploration of unusual subject matter through his Impressionist lens.

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