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

La Coiffure (La Toilette)

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
La Coiffure (La Toilette)
signed ‘Degas’ (lower left)
pastel on joined tracing paper laid down on card laid down on board
21 ¾ x 22 ¼ in. (55.2 x 56.5 cm.)
Drawn circa 1892-1895
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris.
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, 5 October 1899).
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, 1900).
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.
Town and Country, 10 April 1915, p. 31.
P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1946, vol. III, p. 654, no. 1129 (illustrated, p. 655).
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Edgar Degas, 1901.
Boston, Saint Botolph Club, Impressionist Paintings, January 1913, no. 1.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Suffrage Loan Exhibition, April 1915.
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Exhibition of Paintings and Pastels by Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas, April 1916, no. 19.
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Paintings and Pastels by Degas, January 1918, no. 8.
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Paintings and Pastels by Degas, March 1922, no. 18.
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Exhibition of Paintings and Pastels by Degas, January-February 1928, no. 24 (dated 1890).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Summer Loan Exhibition, 1967, p. 4, no. 36 (dated 1892).
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Edgar Degas, November-December 1978, no. 49 (illsutrated in color).
London, The National Gallery and The Art Institute of Chicago, Degas: Beyond Impressionism, May 1996-January 1997, p. 300, no. 41 (illustrated in color, p. 224; dated circa 1892-1896).


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


There are in the pantheon of the great moderns a few artists who lived to an advanced age, whom we hold in high esteem for an accomplishment that is uncommon and profoundly revelatory: their lives’ work culminated in an utterly transformed and unprecedented art, whose pronounced characteristics may be perceived to constitute a uniquely distinctive “late style.” This late body of work may be so exceptional and forward-looking that it may eventually be understood to constitute a defining moment, a benchmark “state of the art,” in the history of modernism. Among the artists of the last century, we especially admire Henri Matisse for the innovation and sheer élan of his cut-outs, and Pablo Picasso, for those irrepressible, life-affirming paintings of his final years, the mousquetaires. Among the giants of the nineteenth century, Paul Cézanne arrived at a late style: his bathers and landscapes bespeak ideas and trends that were to thread their way through successive generations of modern painters down to our own day. Claude Monet’s late nymphéas paintings represent the transubstantiation of Impressionism into a vision and experience of the physical world that crosses the threshold into a virtually cosmic and timeless dimension.
And then, of course, there is Edgar Degas. Observers had noted early on the presence of a late style in his work; in discussing an exhibition of late works in 1936, Waldemar George was struck by “His tone—false, strident, clashing, breaking into shimmering fanfares without any concern for truth, plausibility, or credibility” (quoted in Degas, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1988, p. 482). A wider appreciation and deepening understanding of Degas’ late style began to emerge within the context of the massive 1988 retrospective of his work. It was not until 1996, however, nearly eighty years after the artist’s death, that a thorough and definitive accounting of his late work was finally undertaken, in Degas: Beyond Impressionism, curated by Richard Kendall.
Degas drew La Coiffure (La Toilette) circa 1892-1895; it is around this time that most commenters mark the emergence of this final phase in his work, which lasted until the artist’s eyesight had so seriously deteriorated that he could no longer paint, draw or sculpt in his studio, around 1912. This issue of the artist’s visual capacity has limited bearing in the mid-1890s, but it is nonetheless a reminder of a significant factor that comes into play in the late work of many elder masters: increasing infirmities of various kinds, as well as the growing apprehension of one’s mortality, may contribute immeasurably to the challenge of the task at hand, and require from the artist the ultimate measure of courage and the strength of will to carry on, all factors, which will inform to some degree the emotional content as well as the appearance of the artist’s production.
When comparing the present pastel to work done in previous decades, one instantly observes that Degas has largely dispensed with his early penchant for specificity and detail, now seemingly dissolved in the boldness of his drawing and the sheer brilliance of color, as the artist strove to distill his subject down to its very essence. Joan Sutherland Boggs has noted, “One fact about which there is general agreement by writers on the later work in Degas’ increasing indulgence in the abstract elements of his art. Color becomes more intense and often seems to dominate his paintings and pastels. Lines also increased in vigor and expressive power. In addition, the very texture of Degas’ work seems an immediate expression of the will of the man himself. In his interest in and reliance on abstraction, there is a willfulness and a turning to what Degas himself described as ‘mystery’ in art” (Degas, exh. cat., Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1988, pp. 481-482).
This pastel relates to the important oil painting of the same title, also executed circa 1892-1895 (Lemoisne, no. 1128), once owned by Matisse and thereafter by his son Pierre, who sold it to the National Gallery, London. Degas also executed another oil painting some time after 1896 showing the two women posed differently, with the color harmony toned down to a more pinkish-yellow hue (Lemoisne, no. 1127; Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo). Richard Kendall has written, “The subject of the coiffure, where a solitary woman combs her hair or has it brushed by a maid, inspired some of the finest pictorial inventions of Degas’s last years… Common to all these depictions, and perhaps responsible for some of their poignancy, is a rudimentary paradox. On one hand, the act of combing, brushing, or attending to the hair is one of the banal and wearisome of daily routines, associated with personal hygiene as much as glamour from the beginning of history. In Degas’ day such rituals were still doubly oppressive for women, whose hair was typically kept long, yet was endlessly lifted and coiled, pinned and often kept out of sight for work or public presentation” (exh. cat., op. cit., 1997, pp. 218-219).
Degas was appreciative of Renaissance and more contemporary versions of this theme, such as Titian’s Lady at her toilet in the Louvre, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s Le bain turc, which was held in Paris collections and was widely published before and after it was sold to the Louvre in 1911. Degas was also familiar with Japanese prints showing women of the pleasure-houses of old Edo (Tokyo) engaged in brushing their hair. Indeed, as a woman’s long hair was often the fetishized object of male attention, the intimate feminine ritual of hair-brushing, usually carried on out-of-sight of a gentleman’s gaze, carried strong sensual and erotic connotations, so that this subject attracted numerous other artist in Degas’ day, including Puvis de Chavannes, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Degas has heightened the intensity of this otherwise prosaic activity in the present pastel by having the young women touch her forehead with a dramatic gesture of her arm, “as if she were suffering from migraine; the anguish is physical” (J.S. Boggs, exh. cat., op cit., 1988, pp. 481 and 482). The oil version is somewhat less expressive in this respect, for which the artist has compensated by giving the woman reddish-orange hair, exaggerating the russet color favored by Pre-Raphaelite and fin-de-siècle Symbolist painters and writers (Lautrec, for example, had an obsession for red-headed women), and making it serve as the basis for the overall tonality of the painting. Dazzling in its chromatic range and subtlety, and imbued with an enigmatic dialogue between the two figures, the present pastel remains arguably the most compelling of Degas' exploration of this theme.

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