Before the Race
Edgar Degas, French, Before the Race, ca. 1885, Pastel, gouache and graphite over charcoal on tracing paper; 56.5 x 65.4 cm (22 5/16 x 25 13/16 inches), Gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth 42.214
The racetrack as a subject intermittently occupied Degas’s attention during most of his mature life as an artist, providing him with a focus for his study of the interaction of form and movement. His Before the Race is built upon three horizontals—the fence, the friezelike disposition of the jockeys’ heads, and the horizon line. These elements create a rhythmic contrast to the horses’ curved forms and the prominent vertical strokes of the landscape, which Degas achieved with multiple layers of pastel. Key to the composition is the rigid fence in white gouache, which stands out from the surrounding textures and softer hues of the chalk. The fence pushes the group forward, contributing a sense of excitement and anticipation as the contestants prepare to race.