EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
1 More
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
4 More
Property from the Collection of Elene Canrobert Isles de Saint Phalle
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Après le bain

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
Après le bain
stamped with signature ‘Degas’ (Lugt 658; lower left)
pastel on joined tracing paper laid down on card laid down on board
20 ½ x 15 ½ in. (51.9 x 39.2 cm.)
Executed in 1883
Estate of the artist; First sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 6-8 May 1918, lot 239.
Jos Hessel and Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired at the above sale).
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, 17 August 1927).
Henry Ruben Ickelheimer, New York (acquired from the above, 29 January 1931).
Philip Henry Isles, New York (by descent from the above, circa 1940).
By descent from the above to the late owner, circa 1960.
P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1946, vol. III, p. 410, no. 721 (illustrated, p. 411).
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Paintings and Pastels by Edgar Degas, March 1922, no. 17.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Summer Loan Exhibition, summer 1967, p. 3, no. 34.
Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Degas Monotypes, April-June 1968, no. 35.
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Edgar Degas, November-December 1978, no. 27 (illustrated in color).

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Describing Edgar Degas’ work in an article of 1894, the art critic Théodore Duret noted the novel ways in which the artist was presenting the female figure, “in interiors, among rich fabrics and cushioned furniture. He has no goddesses to offer, none of the legendary heroines of tradition, but the woman as she is, occupied with her ordinary habits of life or of the toilette…” (quoted in R. Kendall, Degas: Beyond Impressionism, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, 1996, p. 150). Duret’s words illuminate one of the perennial obsessions that came to prominence in Degas’ art in the 1880s onwards: the depiction of a woman in her toilette, quietly and wholly absorbed in the ritualistic daily acts of bathing.
Having remained with the same family for over 90 years, Après le bain of 1883 is an exceptional example of this theme. Here, a woman is shown rising from her bathtub, attended by a maid who waits on her with a towel. Degas has constructed this closely cropped composition with a series of intersecting, parallel, and echoing lines, all of which infuse the work with a sense of expectant dynamism, capturing a moment of suspension just before the bather moves upwards out of the water and begins drying herself. The deep, horizontal oval of the bath is contrasted with the insistent vertical motion created by the outstretched towel, rendered with a sweep of luminous white pastel. Both of these structural components heighten the undulating curves of the bather’s torso and arms as she seems to hover, caught between sitting and standing. Finally, Degas’ radical compositional structure is further evidenced with the abstract mass that appears in the immediate foreground, rising upwards from the bottom of the picture plane. This form—a chair heaped with clothes or towels—intersects the scene taking place beyond it, bringing the viewer directly into the private, peaceful inner sanctum of this toilette.
While Degas had explored the female nude in various ways during the 1870s, it was in the following decade that this motif, particularly that of the bather, came to prominence in his oeuvre. Developing out of a series of monotypes with pastel depicting women in various stages of ablution, Après le bain is one of a number of large-format pastel bathers that Degas executed in the mid-1880s. Degas included a selection of these works in the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition of 1886, describing his contribution as a “Suite of female nudes bathing, washing, drying themselves, wiping themselves, combing themselves or being combed” (quoted in G.T.M. Shackelford and X. Rey, Degas and the Nude, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2011, pp. 129-131). These nudes were met with widespread derision, the audacious settings, poses, and dubious social standing of these bathing women provoking an outcry among critics. As Christopher Lloyd has written, “Degas’ suite of female nudes is the most sustained and audacious exploration in nineteenth-century France of this much vaunted and highly traditional subject in art” (quoted in Edgar Degas: Drawings and Pastels, London, 2017, p. 194).
With these pastels, Degas captured the female figure at every stage of bathing. Eschewing the traditional classical or biblical guises through which the nude was conventionally presented, Degas instead pictured his models in a range of seemingly instinctive, naturalistic poses, seen standing, crouching, bent over, or reclining; shown in the bath or, as in the present work, getting out of it, drying herself, and brushing her hair. For Degas, an artist obsessed with the human form, and particularly the figure in movement, this subject offered a wealth of inspiration, as he tracked the various positions and poses and their effect on the forms of the body at every stage of his bathers’ activities.
As Pierre-Georges Jeanniot described, “Degas was very concerned with the accuracy of movements and postures. He studied them endlessly. I have seen him work with a model, trying to make her assume the gestures of a woman drying herself, tilted over the high back of a chair covered with a bath towel. This is a complicated movement. You see the two shoulder blades from behind; but the right shoulder, squeezed by the weight of the body, assumes an unexpected outline that suggests a kind of acrobatic gesture, a violent effort” (quoted in R. Gordon and A. Forge, Degas, New York, 1988, p. 223).
As a result of his intense scrutiny of his models poses and movements, Degas’ figures are often shown in unconventional poses and totally unaware of the artist’s—and by extension the viewer’s gaze—as they carry out their daily rituals. It was this novel realism and new form of femininity, one that was liberated from traditional conventions and classical ideals, that drew criticism when Degas began to exhibit these works in the late 1880s. As Félix Fénéon wrote, “A bony spine becomes taut; forearms, leaving the fruity pearlike breast, plunge straight down between the legs to wet a washcloth in the tub water in which the feet are soaking” (quoted in J. Sutherland Boggs, Degas, exh. cat., Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1988, p. 443).
At this time, pastel came to the fore in Degas’ oeuvre, enabling him to marry both his innate love of color with his deft draughtsmanship. “I am a colorist with line,” he had famously declared (quoted in op. cit., 2017, p. 278). In the present work, the patterned, chintz-like wallpaper dissolves into a web of abstract lines. With a combination of myriad types of stroke—from staccato dashes to networks of rapid lines, and patches of smudged, blended pastel—Degas’ vigorous application of color was radical. As Waldemar George later described, “His tones—false, strident, clashing, breaking into shimmering fanfares…without any concern for truth, plausibility or credibility” (quoted in ibid., p. 482).

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