The fashion of horse racing

The fashion of horse racing

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Title: Race horses in front of the pits.

Author : DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)

Creation date : 1866

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 46 - Width 61

Technique and other indications: Painting also known as "The parade". Oil on canvas

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 95DE24187 / RF 1981

Race horses in front of the pits.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: June 2015

Historical context

It was under the Second Empire that the first major racetracks were created.

In his Briefs, the baron and prefect of the Seine Haussmann tells how the idea of ​​this racecourse was suggested to him by Morny, then president of the legislative body. President of the Jockey Club, the latter wanted to give an "incredible vogue" to the classic races of the Champ-de-Mars, by installing them "within reach of the elegant promenade which was to be the Bois de Boulogne".

The fashion for racing is not fading. The Auteuil racecourse was built under IIIe Republic, in 1873; in the 1880s, the institution of Pari Mutuel (the ancestor of PMU) aimed to regulate betting by eclipsing bookmakers.

Image Analysis

Degas' horse racing series reflects this growing passion. Followed by Racing at Longchamp (1871), Before the race (1871-1872) and The False Start (1869-1872), this painting represents half a dozen jockeys waiting for the start in front of the stands where a wealthy clientele observes them. In this ambiguous rest that precedes the competition, one feels a tension expressed by long dramatic shadows.

Degas seems to enjoy detailing the anatomy of horses in various positions, as before him the Englishman Stubbs and the Frenchman Meissonier. Later, Muybridge would photograph human and equestrian locomotion sequences.

The harmony and luminosity of the colors, drawn from a reduced palette, give this scene a spring freshness: the whitish sky, the bay of the dresses, the green reflections on the beige ground and in the stands illuminate this Japanese-style composition. , full of the colors that Caillebotte uses in his Boulevard seen from above.


Executed with great sensitivity, this painting is also a document rich in lessons. It introduces us before the action into a world of money and power. The racetracks are the site of a fairly clear social segregation: the elegant and the demi-mondaines meet at the weighing ceremony, while the small crowd of punters crowd the lawn.

Morny, Haussmann’s inspiration, envied the prestige and aristocratic tradition of the great English equestrian clubs. Degas's canvas thus underlines a contradiction in 19th century France.e century, both ideologically hostile to Protestant and liberal England, and fascinated by the maintenance of an influential aristocracy across the Channel, with its distinctive customs and hobbies.

  • bourgeoisie
  • Haussmann (Georges Eugène)
  • impressionism
  • Game
  • Hobbies
  • town planning


Jean BOGGS, Degas at the Races, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Yale University Press, 1998.

Georges DUBY (dir.), History of urban France, t. IV, The city of the industrial age, Paris, Le Seuil, 1983.

Henri LOYRETTE, Degas, Paris, Fayard, 1991.

To cite this article

Ivan JABLONKA, "The fashion of horse racing"