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Portrait of Miss Hortense Valpincon
Edgar Degas, French, <I>Portrait of Miss Hortense Valpincon</I>, 1871, oil on canvas
zoom Edgar Degas, French, Portrait of Miss Hortense Valpincon, 1871, oil on canvas

 

Spunky. Curious. Self-confident. How else might you describe this girl? We can tell a lot about Hortense Valpincon (val-pin-SOHN) from this portrait painted by her parents' friend Edgar Degas (deh-GAH).

Many French artists in the 19th century painted portraits to make money. Degas, however, usually painted portraits only of his family and close friends. He made this one as a gift for his friends Paul and Claire while staying at their country home. He decided to paint their daughter Hortense on the spur of the moment.

You can tell that Degas knew Hortense's quirks well. Notice the tilt of her head, her slightly parted lips, her bright-eyed gaze, and the arch of her eyebrows. She looks as if she is about to say something or run off to play. Degas carefully drew the shape of Hortense's face and other details. But he also left out things that simply weren't needed to show her personality.

Degas painted and reworked the picture for days. Hortense had to pose for endless hours. Nevertheless, the portrait has the look of a snapshot. Some areas are less in focus than others-just as in a snapshot.

In Degas's time, people thought his pictures looked unfinished. Today, he is considered a great painter because he could reveal so much about the people he painted. What do you think?