Edgar Degas - Portrait of Zacherie Zacharian 1886

Portrait of Zacherie Zacharian 1886
Portrait of Zacherie Zacharian
1886 39x39cm pastel/paper/board
Private Collection.
In 1990, the painting sold for $2,300,000 at Sotheby's.

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In this work Degas deftly orchestrated the relationship between figure and space, eliminating all background referents and forcing the viewer to focus on the subject, Zacharie Zacharian, an Armenian artist who exhibited at the Salons and was known as a still-life painter. Writing on this work, Jean Sutherland Boggs has commented: ‘In this pastel in which Degas has drawn Zacharian’s bowler hat as wonderfully dapper, his bushy brows raised with a certain distinction, his nostrils dilated with a certain hauteur, his beard and mustache as exquisitely barbered, all giving an impression of an aristocratic security, Degas…exposes some weaknesses…in the unfocused eyes, the worn Malacca cane with its silver top and in particular in the short, ashy cigarette butt between his fingers….Although Degas had drawn loose strokes of a blue pastel or a background, giving no indication of a specific setting, he seems to have used a brush to indicate a horizontal whiff of smoke to the left of Zacharian’s head, just brushing over a contour of his cheek, and appearing again to the right of his ear and carried vertically to the top of the sheet….Although the color is controlled and isolated in large patches in most of this pastel, Degas does break out into the most superb bravura performance in the head itself. Using stokes of many colors in a network of hatching, he models its distinguished planes with great refinement, making us able to feel the structure of the nose or the temple, see the faint blue shadow by an eye, respond to the vitality of copper-colored hairs in his beard. He just have done with pure, dry pastel, whereas in some of the other areas he could have moistened the pastel with water or some other medium.