(b. 1834, Paris, d. 1917, Paris)
Young Spartans Exercisingc. 1860
Oil on canvas, 109 x 155 cm
National Gallery, London
Beside portraiture, Degas's early work was also centred on historical themes drawn from religious tradition or mythology. Between 1860 and 1865 he painted five historical paintings, for which there are several sketches and versions: Young Spartans Exercising, Semiramis Founding a City, Alexander and Bucephalus, Jephthah's Daughter, and The Sufferings of the City of New Orleans, the latter being his first entry at the Salon.
These paintings are very original and unlike any historical painting in the nineteenth century. They conformed to the rules of classicist composition, but they were also innovative because of the freshness of his figures and the warm colours of his landscapes.
The Young Spartans Exercising was reworked several times, and numerous related drawings and studies survive.