Achille De Gas, 1857 by Edgar Degas

MOST OF DEGAS' EARLY PORTRAITS were of his brothers or sisters or of himself. Members of his family often told how they posed indefatigably for him. In this restrained portrait of his brother Achille, painted in the uniform of a naval cadet, the artist followed in part the tradition of Ingres, his great idol in painting. The somber color scheme, with its reddish brown background and simple dark silhouette, the careful emphasis on drawing, and the solidly modeled head all point to the Neo-Classical strain in Degas' earlier portraits. And yet there is a directness and modesty already apparent which is the artist's own contribution. In his first portraits Degas had been inclined to imitate poses from Renaissance masters; here the pose is more casual, and Achille looks out with a straightforward gaze which lacks entirely the formality of Ingres. Incisive pencil drawings preceded the painting and in the portrait itself, naturalness, rather than Neo-Classical perfection, was Degas' goal. Undoubtedly he was influenced both by Corot, who painted reticent and sympathetic portraits, and Chasseriau, who was warming up Ingres' colder style by an infusion of Romantic feeling.