Degas is known to be one of the most important and influential Impressionist painters. Celebrated for his ability to capture fleeting moments and human relationships like no other, his work stands as a document to the dramatic artistic shifts of the period. Degas’ work incorporates many of the ideologies of French Modernism such as time, colour, honesty and reality.
This work is one of the last portraits Degas created, and presents a private moment in Madame and Monsieur Louis Rouart’s relationship. Degas’ closeness to the couple is evident in their comfort in him depicting such an informal moment. Central to the composition is Christine, an indication of her open and outgoing nature which complements her more reserved husband. Turning her head wistfully to engage with her husband, it is Louis who positions his body towards her, a sign of his devotion and the intimate moment they are sharing. One is given a tangible understanding of the couple through the smile that plays upon Christine’s lips and the more withdrawn expression of her husband. This is a new portrait style for a married couple, revealing an insight into a very real relationship, instead of a formulaic structured portrait sitting.
Degas depicted the couple on many occasions, with differing versions in this piece being in important collections such as the Pola Museum, Japan. Of the eight pastel sketches in the series, three are fully finished works, each developing towards the couple being placed in an outdoor setting, which scholars have suggested is a park at La Queue-en-Brie. The large scale of this work increases its importance and is rare for Degas. Unlike many of his other sketches, this portrait is on a singular sheet of paper instead of multiple pieces attached together, indicating that its entire composition was considered carefully before its production.