Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from the Collection of Nathan L. Halpern
Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Le coucher

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Le coucher
signed 'Degas' (lower right)
pastel over monotype on paper
15 5/8 x 11¾ in. (39.7 x 29.8 cm.)
Drawn circa 1883
Louis Meredith Howland, London (by 12 December 1912).
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, 24 January 1913).
Pellet (acquired from the above, 24 January 1913).
Jacques Netter, Paris.
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, 5 December 1936).
Sam Salz Inc., New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Nathan L. Halpern, New York (acquired from the above, September 1968).
By descent from the above to the present owners.
C. Mauclair, Degas, Paris, 1937, p. 167 (illustrated, pl. 96).
P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1946, vol. III, p. 424, no. 747 (illustrated, p. 425).
E.P. Janis, "The Role of the Monotype in the Working Method of Degas," Burlington Magazine, vol. CIX, Part II, February 1967, pp. 79-80, fig. 37 (illustrated).
E.P. Janis, Degas Monotypes, Cambridge, 1968, no. 130 (illustrated).
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Small Mastserpieces of Late 19th Century French Art, December 1939, no. 9.
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Pastels by Degas, March 1943, no. 6.
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Degas, November 1947, no. 16.
San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 19th Century French Drawings, March-April 1947, p. 61, no. 97 (titled Bed-Time).
Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Degas Monotypes, 1968, no. 130 (illustrated).
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Degas, November-December 1978, no. 28.
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Sale room notice
The medium of this drawing is pastel over monotype on paper laid down on board.

Lot Essay

Le coucher is one of a series of monotypes that represent perhaps the most innovative creations in Degas's entire oeuvre. The artist first used this medium in the late 1870s and early 1880s, exploring the intimate subjects that feature prominently in his late career--those works that reveal women in the privacy of interior settings bathing or otherwise engaged in their toilette. In this technique the artist used a rag, brush or even his fingertips to apply an oily, slow-drying ink to a metal plate, from which one or two impressions could be pulled. The results were especially rich and evocative studies composed of broad patterns of light and dark. Degas most often employed the "dark field" technique in his monotypes, in which he wiped the ink from a smeared plate, bringing forth ghostlike, lit shapes that contrasted dramatically with the dark ink ground. "Degas' main reason for taking up the monotype medium seems to have been to prolong the flexible unfinished stage of the sketch. The pure manual freedom presented by this technique must have been a revelation and must have contributed a great deal to the positive role of ink and rag as a substitute for pencil" (E. P. Janis, op. cit., pp. xviii and xix).

The moody interplay of light and dark in a monotype was well-suited to depicting the figure in a lamp-lit interior. After making some monotypes of ballet dancers and cabaret singers, Degas utilized this technique to create a remarkable series of prostitutes in brothel settings (Janis nos. 62-120), done on very small-sized sheets, that is still disconcerting in its unabashed realism and dispassionate modernity. Related to themes in contemporary novels by the Goncourt brothers, Huysmans and Zola, this group is the only instance in which Degas overtly treated an erotic subject. The present work was done several years afterwards, as part of a sequence showing nude women bathing or laying in repose, and alludes to the demi-monde atmosphere of the brothel series. While there is no outright erotic subtext for this scene, a contemporary viewer would assume that the young woman is in fact a fille de joie, retiring after a night's work. While she is wearing a night bonnet, she is otherwise undressed--respectable, bourgeois women did not sleep in the nude. Even if the scene is prosaic and presented matter-of-factly, Degas' narrative is teasingly ambiguous, and may project some private fantasy, in which he has rendered his subject with unexpected tenderness and empathy.

Le coucher, as well as most of the other monotypes in the series of nudes done during the early 1880s, was executed in the dark field manner and exists in two impressions. The first, darker impression pulled from the plate (J. 129) was filed away, unsigned, in a portfolio, and was sold in the Atelier Degas print sale in 1918 as lot 253. The present work is the second lighter impression, which Degas has fully reworked with pastel. The first impression is eerily and coldly nocturnal, and many of its shapes are indistinct. The use of rich color in the cognate impression, however, fills out the young woman's figure, more clearly reveals the room, and heightens the quietude and intimacy of this delicately illumined scene.


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