Femme Nue S’essuyant

by Edgar Degas


DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 19.3 x 12.7 inches (49.0 x 32.3 cm)
SIGNATURE: Stamped signature (lower left) and stamped with the Atelier mark (verso) in blue pencil, 1547 and ph . 810.
MEDIUM: Charcoal on paper


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    Catalogue No: 6782 Categories: , ,

    Edgar Degas was a reluctant yet important member of the Impressionist movement known for his depictions of ballerinas. Like his peer Édouard Manet, Degas was resistant to align himself with other members of the group, as his refined drawing style set him apart from the others. “A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy,” he once remarked. “When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people.”

    Atelier Edgar Degas (3rd Vente) Paris, 7-9 April 1919, cat. no. 207, 1,800 Francs.

    With Paul Haim, Paris.

    With Albert Loeb, New York.

    With the James Goodman Gallery, New York Sale, London, July 2, 1970, cat. no. 30, former collection of Mrs. BD.

    Private collection, United Kingdom

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    Degas was born on July 19, 1834 in Paris. In 1855-56, Degas studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He lived in Italy from 1854 to 1859 where he studied the Italian fifteenth century Renaissance.

    From the nineteenth century, he was influenced by academic painter J. A. D. Ingres, following the poussiniste belief in line as the basis of form in painting (rather than colour as was believed by the rubenistes.¬)

    Degas’ first paintings were portraits and historical scenes – regarded highly by the establishment at the time – marked by a strictness of composition. But as he absorbed the perception of his surroundings and of the everyday life of man, Degas’s later work in the 1860s allied him with the Impressionists the following decade.

    Fascinated by the diversity and activity of city life, he painted the ever-changing aspects of the Paris of his day (its streets, theatres, cafés, and race tracks), re-creating the atmosphere of a capitalist city from the eyes of the flaneur. Degas depicts people’s characteristic behaviour and appearance, born of the particular conditions of their work and of everyday occurrences. Focusing on the “occupational” gesture, he poses subjects with a business that combines movement and beauty.

    A type of nineteenth-century humanist, Degas focuses great attention to his subjects (often members of the lower classes) and asserts the aesthetic meaningfulness of their ordinary lives. Particularly memorable are his many ballet scenes, conveying the festive and magnetic atmosphere of the theatre. While revealing beauty, the artist as an objective and subtle observer captures the parallel exhausting, monotonous labour hidden behind the elegant spectacle.

    A displaced composition (asymmetric and with the dynamic, fragmentary quality of a motion-picture frame), precise and supple lines, unexpected foreshortenings, and active interplay of figure and space give Degas’ works a combination of spontaneity with precise calculation.

    His works from the 1870s show a subtle restraint of colour, developing to gradually augment with the effects created by strong artificial light. The works of the 1880s and 1890s, depicting ballet dancers and nudes at their toilette, executed primarily in pastel, take on a tense quality – the view through the peephole, voyeurism.

    From the late 1880s to the beginning of the 20th century Degas cast a great deal of work in sculpture. In his figures of dancers, bathers, and horses Degas strove to achieve a plastic expressiveness in conveying fleeting motion and the sharpness and unexpectedness of a pose, while preserving the figure’s plastic wholeness and clear-cut quality.

    The artist died in September 1917.

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