Edgar Degas, a prominent genre painter of the 19th century, was known for his figurative paintings of ballet dancers, working-class women, and racehorses. His interest in horse racing began in 1862, leading to the production of numerous works on the subject, including “Race Horses,” completed in 1885-88. This pastel painting on wood measures 11 7/8 x 16 inches and demonstrates Degas’s changed observation methods.
Unlike other Impressionist painters who worked in the open air, Degas painted all his Impressionist paintings in the studio, manipulating the size of the horses and jockeys to fit the background. His love for horses matched his attachment to ballet, leading him to attend fashionable horse racing events at the Longchamp racetrack in Paris, a popular luxury sport imported from England during the 19th century. The bright and rich feeling conveyed in his paintings, including “Race Horses,” reflects his skillful observation and composition.