It was a preoccupation that can be seen in his painting Carriage at the Races (c.1869–72).
Again Degas has used the compositional techniques developed by the Japanese print masters.
This time, though, it is a horse-drawn open-top carriage, peopled by a wealthy middle-class couple out enjoying a day at the races, that he has placed along a diagonal angle (running from the bottom right-hand corner to top left in this instance).
The carriage and horses in the foreground have been heavily cropped, with sections of wheels, legs and body (both horses and carriage) cut by Degas’s severe and abrupt framing.
The artist’s intention, as it was with his vast output of paintings featuring ballet dancers, was to convey a sense of the beauty of movement; hence choosing lithe and supple subjects at the height of their athletic powers.
Degas’s understanding and appreciation of what was needed to create the impression of immediacy and movement was not just acquired from studying the work of Japanese artists.
He had also learnt a great deal from the rapidly evolving medium of photography, as had his fellow Impressionists.
Degas was particularly knowledgeable about the pioneering photographic work of Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904).
The English-born, largely American-based Muybridge made his name with a (now very famous) series of frozen-moment photographs in the 1870s that showed, frame by frame, how horses and people really moved.
They were a revelation to Degas, who studied and copied the images before proclaiming his artistic ambition as being the capturing of ‘movement in its exact truth’.
Much thanks to Will Gompertz’s book What Are You Looking At….some of the blog is directly taken from this fantastic book.