Self-Portrait in a Brown Vest, 1856
Oil on paper
9 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches (240 x 190 mm.)
Bequest of John S. Thacher, 1985
This small-scale, somewhat tentative exploration in oils reveals Degas' continued use of himself as subject as he came to grasp the rudiments of portraiture. Here he posed with the right half of his body lost in shadow and with a cautious and reserved gaze—as opposed to contemporaneous portraits that depict a more assertive and arrogant young man. This foray into sketching with oil paint was likely executed shortly before the artist left for Italy.
Such familiar subject matter is typical not only of Degas' early years but of his entire career: he very rarely accepted commissions and often found subjects within his social milieu, hired models, or working-class entertainers.