Before the Race

The horses and jockeys in this painting are presented in a variety of different positions, waiting restlessly for the start of a race. Throughout his career, Degas explored the ways in which movement could be suggested in a still image. Before the Race was painted in the artist’s studio, from preparatory drawings, though its dazzling brushwork preserves the immediacy of a work painted outdoors. An avid horseman, Sterling Clark was undoubtedly attracted to this painting’s equestrian subject matter.


The artist, sold to Durand-Ruel, Paris, 10-12 Dec. 1882, as Le départ; [Durand-Ruel, Paris, sold to Lerolle, 10 Jan. 1883]; Henry Lerolle, Paris (1883–d. 1929); Madeleine Lerolle, Paris, his wife, by descent (1929–until at least 1936); [Hector Brame, Paris, by 1937, sold to Durand-Ruel 3 June 1937, as Chevaux de courses]; [Durand-Ruel, New York, 1937–39, sold to Clark 6 or 15 June 1939];¹ Robert Sterling Clark (1939–55); Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1955.

1. There are two invoices from Durand-Ruel to Clark that list this painting, one dated 22 Nov. 1938, the other dated 26 June 1939 and annotated “received payment.” The date “6 or 15 June 1939” is cited in Jean Sutherland Boggs, Degas, exhibition catalogue, 1988, p. 403, and is presumably based on information from the Durand-Ruel archives.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

French, 1834–1917

Before the Race

c. 1882

Oil on panel

10 1/2 x 13 3/4 in. (26.7 x 34.9 cm) Frame: 18 x 21 3/16 x 2 in. (45.7 x 53.8 x 5.1 cm)

Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1939