Prancing Horse (Primary Title)

Edgar Degas, French, 1834 - 1917 (Artist)

late 1880s
red wax
Overall: 9 5/8 × 5 × 14 in. (24.45 × 12.7 × 35.56 cm)

Paul Mellon bought the entire ensemble of wax sculptures by Degas in 1955, and a significant number of these figures are representations of horses. Degas was deeply inspired by the spectacle of horse racing, and he attempted to capture the nuances of equine movements and vitality in several of his sculptures. These experiments were realized at various periods throughout his career, and the works in VMFA’s collection range from the 1850s until the 1880s. The photographic segmentation of the galloping of a horse in Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 publication The Horse in Motion appears to have inspired the finesse of movement rendered in Degas’s later sculptures.

To achieve the frequently exuberant postures rendered in these works, the artist modeled his figures around thin wire armatures. He often chose to leave parts of these underlying frameworks visible. The result is an elegant compromise between highly naturalistic modeling and the aesthetic charm of an unfinished work.

Signed in wax base at proper right side center: "Degas"
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon
A Day at the Races: Manet, Degas, and Images of the Horse, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., April 12 – July 12, 1998
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

Some object records are not complete and do not reflect VMFA's full and current knowledge. VMFA makes routine updates as records are reviewed and enhanced.