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    Sale 12071

    Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

    13 May 2016, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 1245

    Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

    Femme assise dans un fauteuil s'essuyant l'aisselle gauche

    Price Realised  


    Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
    Femme assise dans un fauteuil s'essuyant l'aisselle gauche
    stamped with signature 'Degas' (Lugt 658; on the front of the base); numbered and stamped with foundry mark '43/E A.A. HEBRARD CIRE PERDUE' (on the side of the base)
    bronze with dark brown patina
    Height: 12 3/8 in. (31.5 cm.)
    Original wax model executed circa 1896-1911; this bronze version cast at a later date in an edition numbered A to T, plus two casts reserved for the Degas heirs and the founder Hébrard marked HER.D and HER respectively

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    "As far as I can remember, whenever I called on Degas, I was almost as sure to find him modeling in clay as painting," the dealer Durand-Ruel once remarked (quoted in Degas at the Races, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 180). In the 1880s, sculpture became central to Degas’ examination of the female form. The present bronze, Femme assise dans un fauteuil s’essuyant l’aisselle gauche, which depicts a seated bather engaged in an intimate act of personal toilette, marks a radical departure from traditional conceptions of feminine beauty. Here, Degas leverages the body’s expressive potential through a natural yet unconventional pose that shows the nude afresh–the figure twists her torso as she leans forward to dry her left underarm, the movement of which is offset by the competing mass of the armchair on which she sits. Delicately draped over the back of the chair, the bather’s robe visually balances her forward cant while further highlighting her sensual nudity. Such domestic appurtenances also contribute to Degas’ original conception of the theme, for the sight of a contemporary woman in a state of undress would have certainly affronted nineteenth-century bourgeois sensibilities. A far cry from classical nudes à la Venus, this sculpture employs a complex visual language that elevates the iconographic novelty of this bathing bourgeoise.
    Degas’ mature aesthetic is evident in the confident handling of Femme assise. Unlike his other sculptures, Degas covered the surface of the mold for this bronze with paper overlaid with brown beeswax in order to achieve the textured surface of the bather’s form (Edgar Degas, Sculpture, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2010, p. 290). The naturalistic expanse of the sitter’s back contrasts with the kneaded surface of the sculpture’s base. The tactile markings and pinched creases visible on the plinth and armchair uniquely exhibit the deliberate hand of the artist in the creation of this piece.
    Drawn in 1890, the pastel After the Bath, Woman Drying Her Chest (fig.1) provides a compositional counterpoint to this later sculpture. In the pastel, a seated bather is portrayed in a warmly lit domestic anterior similarly lifting her left arm to dry her side. The tentative lines used to describe the bather’s arms in this flat work highlight the structural challenges that Degas later tackled in the realization of this bold sculpture. Unlike the imposed perspective of Degas’ two-dimensional bathers’ series, the medium of the present lot allows the viewer to behold the figure from a multiplicity of angles.
    At the time of Degas’ death in September 1917, over 150 sculptures were discovered scattered around his Paris studio. While the artist used wax as a working tool to inform his drawings, he also sought to modernize sculpture in its own right. The present bronze Femme assise is a superb example of how Degas boldly overturned thematic and formal conventions of the medium in order to evoke the realism of modern life in three dimensions.


    Mme Georges Bigar, Lausanne (1967).
    By descent from the above to the late owners.

    Pre-Lot Text



    J. Rewald, ed., Degas, Works in Sculpture, A Complete Catalogue, New York, 1944, p. 28, no. LXXII (another cast illustrated, pp. 140 and 142).
    P. Borel, Les sculptures inédites de Degas, Geneva, 1949 (another cast illustrated).
    J. Rewald and L. von Matt, Degas, Sculpture, New York, 1956, p. 157, no. LXXII (another cast illustrated, pl. 84).
    F. Russoli and F. Minervino, L'opera completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, p. 144, no. S 60 (another cast illustrated).
    C.W. Millard, The Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Princeton, 1979, no. 134 (another cast illustrated).
    J. Rewald, Degas's Complete Sculpture, Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1990, p. 182, no. LXXII (another cast illustrated; original wax model illustrated, p. 183).
    A. Pingeot and F. Horvat, Degas, Sculptures, Paris, 1991, p. 181, no. 60 (another cast illustrated).
    S. Campbell, "Degas, The Sculptures, A Catalogue Raisonné," Apollo, vol. CXLII, no. 402, August 1995, pp. 31-32, no. 43 (another cast illustrated).
    J.S. Czestochowski and A. Pingeot, Degas Sculptures, Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes, Memphis, 2002, p. 205, no. 43 (original wax model illustrated; another cast illustrated in color, p. 204).
    S. Campbell, R. Kendall, D.S. Barbour and S.G. Sturman, Degas in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, 2009, vol. II, pp. 428, 455-457 and 534, no. 92 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 454; original wax model illustrated in color, p. 456).
    S.G. Lindsay, D.S. Barbour and S.G. Sturman, Edgar Degas Sculpture, Washington, D.C., 2010, p. 290, no. 50 (original wax model illustrated in color, p. 291).