About This Artwork

Edgar Degas
French, 1834–1917

Young Spartan Girls Challenging Boys, c. 1860

Oil on canvas
97.4 x 140 cm (38 5/16 x 55 1/8 in.)
Inscribed lower right: Degas

Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1961.334

In 1859 Edgar Degas returned to Paris following a prolonged stay in Italy, where he visited relatives in Naples and Florence and attended life classes at the Académie Française in Rome. This picture, undertaken around 1860, speaks to his ambition to realize canvases featuring scenes from the Bible, as well as ancient and more recent history. Degas took his subject from the life of Lycurgus, a legendary ninth-century b.c. Spartan lawgiver. Lycurgus’s social reforms included an unusual method of physical training in which adolescent girls competed on an equal footing with boys, exercising nude in public. Degas would have worked up this monochromatic sketch with layers of color had he completed it, but he left it unfinished when he began a second version of the subject (National Gallery of Art, London).

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Paris, André J. Seligmann, Réhabilitation du Sujet, November 17-December 9, 1934, cat. no. 83.

Bern, Kunstmuseum, Degas, November 25, 1951-January 13, 1952, cat. no. 2.

Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Edgar Degas, 1952, cat. no. 5.

Paris, Galerie de la Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Degas dans les collections françaises, June 9-26, 1955, cat. no. 9.

Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Edgar Degas: 1834-1917, June 9-October 1, 1960, cat. no. 2.

Tokyo, Seibu Museum of Art, Exposition Degas, September 23, 1976-November 3, 1976; Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, November 7-December 10, 1976; Centre Culturel de Fukuoka, December 18, 1976-January 16, 1977, cat. no. 4.

Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Degas in the Art Institute of Chicago, July 19-September 23, 1984, cat. no. 9.

Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), State Hermitage Museum, Ot Delakrua do Matissa: Shedevry frantsuzskoi zhivopisi XIX—nachala XX veka, iz Muzeia Metropoliten v N’iu-Iorke i Khudozhestvennogo Instituto v Chikago [From Delacroix to Matisse: Masterpieces of French painting of the nineteenth to the beginning of the twentieth century from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago], March 15-May 16, 1988; Moscow, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, May 30-July 30, 1988, cat. no. 16.

Paris, Grand Palais, Origins of Impressionism, April 19-August 8, 1994; New York, Metropolitan Museum, September 27, 1994-January 8, 1995, cat. no. 51.

Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Forma: El ideal clásico en el arte moderno, October 9, 2001-January 13, 2002, cat. no. 13.

London, National Gallery, Art in the Making: Degas, November 10, 2004-January 30, 2005, no cat. no.

São Paulo, Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Degas: o universo de um artista, May 17–August 20, 2006, no cat. no.

Fort Worth, Tex., Kimbell Museum of Art, The Impressionists: Master Paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago, June 29–November 2, 2008, cat. no. 37.

Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Degas and The Nude, October 9, 2011-February 5, 2012, no cat. no.

Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Edgar Degas: Classicism and Experimentation, November 8, 2014-February 1, 2015, cat. no. 52.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Degas: At the Track, On the Stage," July 1, 2015-February 26, 2016, no cat.

Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, Degas: A New Vision, June 24-September 18, 2016; Houston, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, October 14, 2016-January 16, 2017, no cat. no.

Publication History

Paul Lafond, Degas, vol. 2 (Paris: H. Floury, 1919), pp. 2, 4 (ill.).

P[aul]-A[ndré] Lemoisne, Degas et son œuvre, vol. 2 (Paris: Paul Brame et C. M. de Hauke, 1946), pp. 34-5, no. 71 (ill.).

John Maxon, “Report of the Director of Fine Arts,” Annual Report, 1960-1961 (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1961), pp. 10-12.

Phoebe Pool, “The History Pictures of Edgar Degas and their background,” Apollo 80, 32 (1964), p. 308, fig. 6.

John Maxon, “Some Recent Acquisitions,” Apollo 84, 55 (1966), pp. 216, 220, fig. 8.

William M. Ittman, Jr., “A Drawing by Edgar Degas for the Petites Filles Spartiates Provoquant des Garçons,” The Register of the Museum of Art: The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 3, 7 (1966), pp. 38-49, fig. b.

Devin Burnell, “Degas and His ‘Young Spartans Exercising,’” Museum Studies 4, (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1969), pp. 49-65, fig. 1.

Martin Davies, National Gallery Catalogues. French School: Early 19th century, Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, etc. (London: National Gallery, 1970), pp. 48-9.

Franco Russoli, L’opera completa di Degas (Milan: Rizzoli Editore, 1970), p. 90, fig. 89.

Roy McMullen, Degas: His Life, Times, and Work (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984), p. 103-6.

Maurice Guillaud, Degas: form and space (Paris; New York: Centre culturel du Marais, [1984]), p. 19.

Carol Salus, “Degas’ Young Spartans Exercising,” Art Bulletin 67 (1985), p. 503, n. 14.

Richard R. Brettell, French Salon Artists, 1800-1900 (Art Institute of Chicago/New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987), pp. 38 (ill.), 39, 118.

Richard Thomson, The Private Degas (London: Herbert Press, 1987), pp. 33-39, fig. 36.

Norma Broude, “Edgar Degas and French Feminism, ca. 1880: ‘The Young Spartans,’ the Brothel Monotypes, and the Bathers Revisited,” Art Bulletin 70 (1988), pp. 640-659, fig. 3.

Jean Sutherland Boggs, Degas, exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1988), pp. 98-9, under no. 40, fig. 50.
Quentin Bell, Bad Art (London: Chatto and Windus, 1989), pp. vii, 107, 111, no. 6.

Carol Armstrong, Odd Man Out: Readings of the Work and Reputation of Edgar Degas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 119-120, fig. 63.

Wendy Lesser, His Other Half: Men Looking at Women through Art (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 60-1.

Jean Sutherland Boggs, Degas (Art Institute of Chicago/New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996), p. 16, pl. 4.

Richard Kendall, Degas beyond Impressionism, exh. cat. (London: National Gallery Publications, 1996), pp. 106-7, fig. 109.

Richard Kendall, Degas and the Little Dancer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 77, 93-4, fig. 65.

Alexander Sturgis, Pocket Guides: Faces (London: National Gallery Publications, 1998), pp. 30-32, fig. 36.

Whitney Davis, “’Homosexualism,’ Gay and Lesbian Studies, and Queer Theory in Art History,” in The Subjects of Art History: Historical Objects in Contemporary Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 131-133, fig. 19.

Gloria Groom and Douglas Druick with the assistance of Dorota Chudzicka and Jill Shaw, The Age of Impressionism at the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), pp. 86-87, cat. no. 37 (ill.).

Anne Roquebert, “The Classical Body: Degas’s Beginnings,” in Degas and The Nude, exh. cat. ed. George T.M. Shackelford and Xavier Rey (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts Publications, 2011), pp. 30, 33, fig. 35.

Alexander Eiling, “Klassik und Experiment im Werk von Edgar Degas,” in Degas: Klassik und Experiment (Munich: Hirmer [2014]), p. 25, fig. 17.

Henri Loyrette, "Degas A New Vision," National Gallery of Victoria, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Art Exhibitions Australia (2016) pp. 32 and 33.

Ownership History

Artist’s studio until his death in 1917 [according to Lafond 1919]; sold at second sale of the “Atelier Degas,” Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, December 11-13, 1918, no. 7, to the artist’s brother, René de Gas [according to letter from Charles Durand-Ruel to Richard Brettell, dated May 10, 1983; copy in curatorial file]; René de Gas (died 1921); his estate, until 1927 [according to letter cited above]; sold, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, November 10, 1927, no. 76, to Durand-Ruel, Paris [according to annotated sale catalogue, Getty Research Institute Library, Los Angeles; copy in curatorial file]; Durand-Ruel, Paris, from 1927 to 1950; sold to Jean d’Alayer de Costemore d’Arc, Paris, 1950 [according to letter from Charles Durand-Ruel cited above. Costemore d’Arc was married to Marie-Louise Durand-Ruel]; Jean d’Alayer de Costemore d’Arc, Paris, until at least 1952 [lent by him to Amsterdam 1952]. Sam Salz, New York, by 1960; sold to the Art Institute, 1961.

View mobile website