Young Spartans Exercising (1860; France) by Edgar Degas

Young Spartans Exercising - Edgar Degas - 1860; France

Artwork Information

TitleYoung Spartans Exercising
ArtistEdgar Degas
Date1860; France
Dimensions109 x 155 cm
Art MovementImpressionism
Current LocationNational Gallery, London, UK

About Young Spartans Exercising

The artwork “Young Spartans Exercising,” created by the artist Edgar Degas in 1860, is an oil painting on canvas that depicts a historical and genre scene. This piece is associated with the Impressionist movement, although Degas is often considered to be a somewhat idiosyncratic member of the group due to his classical influences and compositions. Measuring 109 by 155 centimeters, the painting is housed in the National Gallery in London, United Kingdom. It represents a moment from the history of Sparta, illustrating the youth engaged in physical exercise.

In the artwork, a group of young girls confront a group of boys in what appears to be a ritual or practice related to Spartan physical education. The backdrop features a muted landscape with a mountainous profile under a wide expanse of sky, suggesting an open and public setting for the scene. The girls, clothed in form-fitting attire, exude confidence and calm as they stand together, one gesturing towards the boys. Opposite them, the boys, some naked and others partially draped, are depicted in variable postures that suggest movement and playful competition.

The composition exploits a sense of depth and perspective, with figures strategically placed to guide the observer’s eye across the canvas. The rendering of the figures and the landscape is emblematic of Degas’ early interest in classical form, yet the free brushwork and atmospheric quality of the scene signal the innovativeness associated with Impressionism. The palette consists of naturalistic, subdued earth tones, punctuated by the clothing’s hues and the flesh tones of the youth. The overall mood captures the vigor of the Spartan tradition of physical fitness, resonating with themes of youth, strength, and the social customs of ancient times.

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