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Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from the Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody
Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

La Masseuse

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
La Masseuse
signed and numbered 'Degas 55/Q' (on the top of the base); stamped with foundry mark 'AA HEBRARD CIRE PERDUE' (on side of the base)
bronze with green and black patina
Height: 16¼ in. (41.3 cm.)
Length: 15 in. (38.1 cm.)
Width: 12 in. (30.5 cm.)
Conceived circa 1896-1911; this bronze version cast in an edition of twenty-two, numbered A to T plus two casts reserved for the Degas heirs and the founder Hébrard.
Galerie Max Kaganovitch, Paris.
The Lefevre Gallery, London.
Sam Salz, Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by Mr. and Mrs. Sidney F. Brody, 1 November 1955.
J. Rewald, Degas: Works in Sculpture, New York, 1944, p. 28, no. LXXIII (original wax model illustrated; another cast illustrated, p. 143).
J. Rewald, Degas: Sculpture, the Complete Works, New York, 1956, pp. 89 and 157, no. LXXIII (illustrated, p. 89).
C. Millard, The Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Princeton, 1976, no. 139 (illustrated, p. XX).
R. Thomson, Degas: The Nudes, London, 1988, pp. 210 and 237 (original wax model illustrated, fig. 211).
J. Rewald, Degas's Complete Sculpture, a Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1990, pp. 184-185, no. LXXIII (original wax model illustrated; another cast illustrated).
A. Pingeot, Degas, Sculptures, Paris, 1991, p. 68.
S. Campbell, "Degas, The Sculptures, A Catalogue Raisonné," in Apollo, vol. CXLII, August 1995, pp. 37-38, no. 55 (another cast illustrated).
J.S. Czestochowski and A. Pingeot, Degas Sculptures, Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes, Memphis, 2002, pp. 228-229, no. 55 (original wax model illustrated; another cast illustrated).
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Lot Essay

La Masseuse is the largest and most compositionally adventurous of an important series of sculptures depicting seated bathers that Degas executed during the last decades of his career (Rewald, nos. LXIX-LXXII). The only multi-figure group in Degas's surviving sculptural oeuvre, it represents a clothed maidservant massaging the outstretched leg of a nude bather lying on a tufted chaise. The body of the bather is forcefully twisted across the chaise, her hands resting on her buttocks and her elbows jutting out behind her. The maid leans forward, concentrating on her task, her upright and dignified posture contrasting with the writhing form of the bather. The dominant axis of the chaise is counterbalanced by a sheet that is draped across it, uniting the various elements of the work and adding to its spatial interest. Charles Millard has written, "Although he continued to develop old themes and explore new variations, Degas's great final accomplishment [in sculpture] was the series of seated bathers. The Masseuse, Degas's only surviving free-standing group, is the finest of the series. The elaboration of its re-entrant space, made possible by the use of two figures and the extenuation of the chair shape by the use of a chaise longue, make it far and away the most sculpturally satisfying of the series" (op. cit., p. 109).

Degas had first explored the image of a woman assisted by a maid in several works from the late 1870s, all of which show the servant holding a towel as the woman steps out of her bath (Lemoisne, nos. 422-423; Adhèmar, nos. 49, 133). The theme seems to have held particular appeal for him, however, starting in the mid-1890s, the likely date of the present sculpture. During this period, it formed the basis for one of the most ambitious pastels of Degas's entire career, which depicts a maid entering the room with a cup of tea while a bather dries her neck (L., no. 724), as well as for a large oil painting of a maid combing a woman's hair (L., no. 1128; National Gallery, London). Maids were a subject of much discussion in late nineteenth-century France. Manuals were written advising women on how to supervise their work, dress, and morals, and the manipulative, gossipy maid became a trope in contemporary novels such as Zola's Pot-Bouille of 1882 and Mirbeau's Journal d'une femme de chamber of 1900.

The maids in Degas's oeuvre, on the other hand, appear disciplined and resolute. Their stiff postures and tidy dress contrast with the casual, twisting forms of their mistresses, at ease in their own space. Richard Thomson has written, "Degas's images of mistress and maid are organized around polarities of subservience and control; like his brothel monotypes, they correspond to the status quo. His maids behave as they should. They are impartial observers of their employers' nakedness. Degas's sculpture of the Masseuse is not given the sensual, even erotic, gloss typical of contemporary representations of the subject. It is concerned with the manipulation of the body, and acts almost as a metaphor for Degas's own practice as an artist" (op. cit., p. 210).

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