One of Edgar Degas's most intimate portraits is this likeness of his artist friend Count Ludovic Lepic (1839-1889). The picture bears witness to an acquaintance that began with a youthful friendship and endured for almost 30 years. Lepic appears in eleven works created between 1859 and 1889, and executed in every medium Degas used except sculpture.
From his early childhood, Lepic felt a strong emotional attachment to dogs, and in his teens he was already raising thoroughbreds. In 1863 he became an active supporter of and participant in the first Paris dog show where he had the satisfaction of seeing one of his animals, a greyhound, awarded a medal. So it is not surprising that during the 1870s he gained wide public recognition as an animalier, an artist of animal subjects. His artist friends frequently associated him with dogs and in portraits he is often shown accompanied by his pets. Degas's portrait, probably made in the fall of 1889, shows Ludovic Lepic holding a Belgian griffon.
Executed rapidly in pastel, mostly in browns and dark red tones with contrasting touches of green and violet-blue, the forms are defined with expressive freedom and emotional force. The heads of both the dog and its master are set in shallow space against a flat background, their forms barely suggested by the dark lines that define shoulder, mouths, eyes, and ears, and by the white areas that highlight the planes of Lepic's face and forehead. The dog's mouth is turned upward in cheerful smile, but Lepic's expression is weary and wistful and his eyes are the eyes of an ill and dying man. The two heads thus become masks of comedy and tragedy. A penetrating vision of the human condition, of life coming to its inevitable close, the picture is one of Degas's most compassionate portraits. About a month after its completion, Lepic died at the age of fifty.