Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Early in his career, before he became known as a painter of modern spectacles such as the ballet and the racetrack, Degas created historical scenes. This is a preparatory study for his Young Spartan Girls Challenging Boys, taken from the legend of Lycurgus, leader of the Greek state of Sparta. Lycurgus wanted to build his state into an undefeatable power, so he insisted that adolescent girls as well as boys exercise and train: the boys would become soldiers, and the girls powerful mothers. On the right, a group of boys stretch, while two female figures stand across from them at left; one of the girls gestures provocatively toward her male counterparts, as if to draw them over to her side. It is possible that Degas represented a courtship ritual rather than a military preparation, for behind the girls a male and female couple embrace.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, French (Paris, France 1834 - 1917 Paris, France)
Study for "Young Spartan Girls Challenging Boys"
Other Titles
Former Title: Study for "The Young Spartans Exercising"
Alternate Title: Petites Filles Spartiates provoquant des Garcons / Spartan Girls Provoking the Boys
Work Type
c. 1860-c. 1861
Persistent Link
Level 2, Room 2700, European and American Art, 19th century, Impressionism and the Late Nineteenth Century
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Physical Descriptions
Oil on paper, mounted on another sheet of paper, then on cardboard, and mounted on panel
20.9 x 28 cm (8 1/4 x 11 in.)
framed: 38.2 x 46 cm (15 1/16 x 18 1/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.l., red paint: Degas [vente stamp]
  • label: back of board, black ink, handwritten and printed: [handwritten:] Degas / [printed:] No. [handwritten:] 4523 / Jeunes Spartiates / [line scratched out] / [ ] around 1860
  • exhibition label: back of board, black ink, printed: [Wertheim exhibition in Japan]
  • label: back of board, black ink, handwritten: partial label: 1138[ ] / [ ] iates [ ]
Hilarie-Germain-Edgar Degas atelier (Degas atelier sale 2, Galerie Georges Petite, Paris, December 11-13, 1918, no. 45 (as "Jeunes Spartiates s'exerçant à la lutte"), December 13, 1918]. [Durand-Ruel, Paris]. [Chester H. Johnson Galleries, Chicago ], sold; to Fogg Art Museum, 1931.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Friends of the Fogg Museum, Alpheus Hyatt, William M. Prichard, and Francis H. Burr Memorial Funds
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Catalogue des Tableaux, Pastels et Dessins par Edgar Degas et provenant de son atelier (2e vente), auct. cat. (Paris, December 9 and 10, 1918), p. 45, cat. no. 45, repr.

Paul André Lemoisne, Degas et son Oeuvre, Paul Brame and Cesar M. de Hauke (Paris, France, 1946-1949), vol. II, no. 72, p. 36, repr. in b/w

Works by Edgar Degas, exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, OH, 1947), no. 11, pl. X

Ingres and Degas: Two Classical Draughtsmen, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1961), p. 26-27

Devin Burnell, "Degas and his 'Young Spartans Exercising' ", Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, The Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL, 1969 -1970), vol. IV, repr. in b/w, fig. 3, p. 51

Richard R. Brettell and Suzanne Folds McCullough, Degas in the Art Institute of Chicago, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago/Harry N. Abrams (Chicago, IL and New York, NY, 1984), mentioned on p. 35

Richard Kendall, ed., Degas by himself: Drawings, Prints, Paintings, Writings, Macdonald Orbis (London, England, 1987), repr. in color, p. 50

Richard Thomson, The Private Degas, exh. cat., Arts Council of Great Britain, London (London, England, 1987), repr. in color p. 55, fig. 72; no. 20, p. 138; pps. 33-39

Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), pp. 104, 239, repr. b/w cat. no. 326

The Maurice Wertheim Collection and Selected Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings and Drawings in the Fogg Art Museum, exh. cat., Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1990), repr. in color no. 11, p. 53

Richard R. Brettell, The Robert Lehman Collection, vol. 9: Nineteenth- and twentieth-century European Drawings, Ms. Susan R. Stein (New York, NY / Princeton, NJ, 2002), under no. 81, repr. as fig. 81.3, p. 162

David Bomford, Art in the Making: Degas, exh. cat., National Gallery Publications/Yale University Press (London and New Haven, 2004), p. 71; repr. p. 75 as fig. 68

Richard Kendall, "Degas", The Burlington Magazine (December 2005), CXLVII, pp. 847-848, p. 847

Marjorie B. Cohn and Jean Sutherland Boggs, Degas at Harvard, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums/Yale University Press (Cambridge and New Haven, 2005), p. 37; pp. 88-89, repr. in color as fig. 45; no. 3, p. 98

Musée d'Art moderne André Malraux, Ville du Havre, De Delacroix à Marquet: Donation Senn-Foulds, Dessins, exh. cat., Somogy Éditions d'Art (Paris, France, 2011), p. 153, repr. p. 153 as fig. 54

George T.M. Shackelford and Xavier Rey, Degas and the Nude, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, 2011), p. 30, repr. p. 34 as fig. 36, p. 222

Henri Loyrette, Degas: A New Vision, exh. cat., National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Melbourne/Houston, 2016), repr. p. 35

Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale, auct. cat., Sotheby's, New York (New York, May 16, 2017), pp. 134-140, under lot 24, repr. p. 138

Exhibition History

Unidentified Exhibition, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1936, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 01/01/1936 - 12/31/1936

Degas, 1834-1917, Pennsylvania Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 11/01/1936 - 11/30/1936

Unidentified Exhibition, Lyman Allyn Museum, 1940, Lyman Allen Museum, New London, 01/01/1940 - 12/31/1940

Works by Edgar Degas, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 02/05/1947 - 03/09/1947

Master Paintings from the Fogg Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/13/1977 - 08/31/1977

The Private Degas, The Whitworth Art Gallery, 01/17/1987 - 02/28/1987; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 03/14/1987 - 05/03/1987

The Maurice Wertheim Collection and Selected Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings and Drawings in the Fogg Art Museum, Isetan Department Store, Tokyo, 03/01/1990 - 04/10/1990; Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art, 04/14/1990 - 05/13/1990

Birth of Impressionism, Tobu Museum of Art (Tobu Bijutsukan), Tokyo, 04/25/1996 - 06/30/1996

Calming the Tempest with Peter Paul Rubens, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 12/22/2001 - 03/17/2002

Degas at Harvard, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/01/2005 - 11/27/2005

32Q: 2700 Impressionism, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2017 - 03/22/2018; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 07/11/2018 - 06/30/2021; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 07/14/2022 - 01/01/2050

Degas: A New Vision, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Melbourne, 06/24/2016 - 09/18/2016; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, 10/16/2016 - 01/16/2017

Related Works

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