In the 1880s and 1890s, Degas' art underwent a transformation—one that was subtle, but also completely revelatory. His nudes became a vehicle for experimentation, in style and method, as well as impact. His earlier, methodical etchings gave way to expressive lithography. Drawing, the cornerstone of his practice, shifted from the careful academic pencil studies to strokes of charcoal or black chalk for forceful images of nude bathers. Anatomical accuracy became less important to the artist than expressing emotions and feelings that were palpable in the work: "Drawing is not what one sees but what one can make others see" (Degas, quoted in R. Kendall, ed., Degas by Himself, Drawings, Prints, Paintings, Writings, London, 1987, p. 319).
Degas' late nudes stand opposite to the ballet dancers he celebrated in previous years, yet they equally became protagonist themes in the artist's oeuvre. If his dancers, by essence contrived and posed, were destined to a public audience and setting; the bathers, presented by Degas in the most intimate environments, were free from the public gaze, unaware of the viewer's presence, absorbed in daily tasks. The change of theme allowed Degas to free himself stylistically. The sharp underlying structures required by his earlier compositions were no longer necessary. Sensuous curves now replaced horizontal and vertical lines, not only in the treatment of the female body, but in its environment as well. Soft drapery, bathtubs, and armchairs create an intimately confined space, imposing on the viewer an unprecedented sense of immediacy. In the present work, Degas has gone a step further and removed any indication of settings or surroundings, and instead allows the woman to encompass the full pictorial space. The rhythmic application of pastel enlivens the figure, as if she has been sketched at speed or captured by a camera that was unable to focus in the available light. Photography itself was something the artist was hugely interested in. Indeed, many photographs exist that relate directly to the poses that he depicted in pastels and oils, demonstrating that Degas was willing to keep one eye turned toward the modern, while the other was turned to the past.