Portrait d’homme (c.1866)

Degas, Edgar (1834-1917)

Portrait d’homme (Portrait of a Man)
Oil on canvas, 86.4 x 64.8 cm
Brooklyn MuseumNew York

In this enigmatic painting, an unidentified man in modern bourgeois attire sits in a chair among cuts of meat. A platter bearing sausage and a bloody, freshly carved pig’s trotter rests on the cloth-covered table, and what appears to be a rib roast sits on another platter (or is it an artist’s palette?) on the floor. Midway between these two plates of dead animal flesh are the man’s clasped hands, which reinforce the melancholic mood of his partly shadowed face. Behind him hangs another cloth partially covering some indecipherable images (perhaps meat?) in a frame on the wall.

It has been suggested that the scene depicts a butcher’s shop, a restaurant, or, more likely, an artist in his studio—a theme that Edgar Degas explored in numerous works. A disquieting combination of portraiture and still life, the image thwarts easy explanation. (BkM)