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Partially clothed men and women stand in two groups in a dry, sparse landscape.

A group of partially clothed women and group of nude men stand facing each other. One woman is reaching her left arm out towards the men while her body is leaning forward. One of the men is stretching his arms above his head, and another is on his hands and knees. In the background there is another group of people, very gesturally painted, standing on a small white platform. The landscape surrounding them is sparse and brown. There is a mountain protruding into the sky in the background on the left-hand side. The sky is gray and moody.

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 [ ]


Recorded Ownership History
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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