The artist's sculptures were most frequently full-length portraits that he would depict in a relatively realist manner. His lack of formal training in sculpture coupled with his refusal to share ideas with other famous sculptors ensured that his technical approach was relatively unique and took little influence from others. It was his purest expression of creativity, you might argue.
We know just how enthused by the human body that Degas was from his continued use of this theme within his drawings and paintings, so it can be no surprise that it also features prominently within his sculpture. Perhaps it was the three-dimensional nature of this art form which appealed to him in comparison to his other work. Different materials would also bring different challenges. His most famous sculpture was made from wax and was the only piece to be exhibited.
The secretive nature of this artist around his work with sculpture meant that it was only after his death that most of it was discovered for the first time. His studio had around 150 different artworks, in a variety of states of completeness. Wax, clay and plastiline were reported to have been the most used materials across this range of work. Many of these sculptures would be relatively similar to each other, with the artist just experimenting with a single change of pose or expression between each. In that sense, many were purely for the purpose of studying and practice.
The portrait of horses was another common theme within Degas’ career and he also tackled this challenge in the medium of sculpture. Most are well aware of his large oil paintings of race horse festivals but less so of these sculptures. Again, he would repeat one after another, all very similar, and just tweak the odd element to see what worked best. Longchamp was his main avenue of study, with regular visits allowing him to study these beautiful creatures in the race environment. This is clearly a more romantic image than that of George Stubbs who would slice open carcasses in order to more accurately capture the a horse’s muscular structure.