About this artwork

Degas chose to depict his good friend Diego Martelli from above in this portrait of 1879. The unconventional viewpoint seems to emphasise Martelli's bulky size, especially as he is balanced precariously on a wooden stool. The objects on the table probably belonged to the Florentine art critic who was a supporter of a group of Italian artists known as the Macchiaioli, some of whom were influenced by Impressionism. Degas often included objects in his portraits which express something about the sitter's life. The lower part of a multi-coloured circular map of Paris is visible on the back wall. A slight pencil sketch of Martelli is in the collection of the National Gallery of Scotland.

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Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

Degas's celebrated paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture focus on aspects of Parisian modern life, including the racecourse and the ballet. His studies at the École des Beaux-Arts encouraged his interest in the human figure which remained central to his art. He travelled to Italy, where he had relatives, and where he continued to study the art of the past. The family portraits he painted there, however, also reflect his interest in capturing momentary appearances and unusual viewpoints. This he shared with the Impressionists, whom he met through Edouard Manet, on his return to Paris. Degas contributed to seven of the eight Impressionist group exhibitions.