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Before the Race

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Before the Race
ArtistEdgar Degas
MediumOil on panel
Dimensions26.4 cm × 34.9 cm (10.4 in × 13.7 in)
LocationThe Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Before the Race (1882–1884) is a painting by Impressionist painter, Edgar Degas, who began painting scenes with horses in the 1860s.


Horse racing became a popular pastime in 19th century France under Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III. Degas began admiring horses while visiting friends in Normandy. Over the course of his career it is reported that he created 45 oils, 20 pastels, 250 drawings, and 17 sculptures related to horses. Degas was eager to know horses in anatomical detail.[1] As a student, Degas had filled his notebooks with drawings of horses. During a tour of breeding farms with Paul Valpincon and after exposure to horse races, Degas appreciated the movement of the horses and the colors of the jockeys uniforms. He wanted to make his paintings seem spontaneous as if he'd captured a passing moment.[2] Before the Race is one of three identically titled paintings from the early 1880s. One was purchased in 1881 by David W. T. Cargill through Alexander Reid (who was dealer for much of Degas' work) for £2100.[3]

During this time Degas was reported to have a full sized stuffed horse in his studio.[4] This version is part of the collection of The Walters Art Museum, the other two are part of the collections of Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute and the Mrs. John Hay Whitney Collection.[5]


Of the three versions, the Walters' painting most closely resembles a sketch. The setting of the painting is barely suggested and the pigments are thinly applied.[5]

Off the Wall[edit]

A reproduction of Before the Race was featured in Off the Wall, an open-air exhibition on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland in 2013/2014. It was displayed at the Horse You Came in on Saloon. The original is part of The Walters Art Museum collection,[6] The National Gallery in London began the concept of bringing art out of doors in 2007 and the Detroit Institute of Art introduced the concept in the U.S.. The Off the Wall reproductions of the Walters' paintings are done on weather-resistant vinyl and include a description of the painting and a QR code for smart phones.[7]


  1. ^ Werner, A., Degas: Pastels, Watson and Guptill, 1984, p. 60
  2. ^ Meyer, S.E., First Impressions: Edgar Degas, Henry N. Abrams, 1994, p. 52
  3. ^ Alexander Reid in Context by Frances Fowle vol.1
  4. ^ Ganz, J.A., Great French Paintings from the Clark: Barbizon through Impressionism, Skira Rizzolli, 2011, p. 130
  5. ^ a b Johnston, W. R., Nineteenth-Century Art: From Romanticism to Art Nouveau, The Walters Art Gallery, 2000, p. 138
  6. ^ "Walters Art Museum - Off the Wall". Archived from the original on 2012-11-19. Retrieved 2012-10-23.
  7. ^ Smith, T., Walters Art Museum goes of the wall, The Baltimore Sun, September 11, 2012