"It's really impossible to pick a favourite. I always find Van Dyck's oil sketch of Charles I's soon-to-be fatherless daughters moving... and I love Degas. He draws with the skill of a Renaissance master but uses it to fill his pictures with life and vigour. The National Galleries are lucky enough to have a few of his works. All are worth a look, but if I have to pick one, it would be Degas's portrait of Diego Martelli."
Peter Capaldi, actor/director
"What I love about Degas's Martelli portrait is it's "unfinished" state, allowing special insight into the way the painting was made, the seeming spontaneity of the composition only arrived upon after numerous preparatory studies which by good fortune I once stumbled across in Paris. This is a wonderful painting for art students to investigate because it reveals that Degas, the great painter of modern life, set about his task in much the same way as Titian - and that is what the practice of painting is all about."
Sandy Moffat, artist
Degas chose to depict his good friend Diego Martelli from above in this portrait of 1879. The unconventional viewpoint seems to emphasise Martelli's bulky size, especially as he is balanced precariously on a wooden stool. The objects on the table probably belonged to the Florentine art critic who was a supporter of a group of Italian artists known as the Macchiaioli, some of whom were influenced by Impressionism. Degas often included objects in his portraits which express something about the sitter's life. The lower part of a multi-coloured circular map of Paris is visible on the back wall. A slight pencil sketch of Martelli is in the collection of the National Gallery of Scotland.
Degas's celebrated paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture focus on aspects of Parisian modern life, including the racecourse and the ballet. His studies at the École des Beaux-Arts encouraged his interest in the human figure which remained central to his art. He travelled to Italy, where he had relatives, and where he continued to study the art of the past. The family portraits he painted there, however, also reflect his interest in capturing momentary appearances and unusual viewpoints. This he shared with the Impressionists, whom he met through Edouard Manet, on his return to Paris. Degas contributed to seven of the eight Impressionist group exhibitions.