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Edgar Degas (1834–1917)
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; 1985.46
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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.

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The programs of The Morgan Library & Museum are made possible with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.