EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
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THE COLLECTION OF ANNE H. BASS
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Femme en peignoir bleu le torse découvert

Details
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
Femme en peignoir bleu le torse couvert
stamped with signature 'Degas' (Lugt 658; lower right)
oil on canvas
36 1⁄4 x 16 1⁄2 in. (92.1 x 41.9 cm.)
Painted circa 1887-1890
Provenance
Estate of the artist; First sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 6-8 May 1918, lot 89.
Gaston Monteux, Paris.
Germaine “Nini” Monteux and Bernard Ernest Reichenbach, Paris (by descent from the above); sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 3 June 1937, lot 7.
Bacri (acquired at the above sale).
L. Salavin, Paris (by 1955).
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired from the above).
John T. Dorrance, Jr., Gladwyne, Pennsylvania (acquired from the above, 1969); Estate sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 18 October 1989, lot 21.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
Literature
P.-A. Lemoisne, Degas et son œuvre, New York, 1946, vol. III, p. 542, no. 934 (illustrated, p. 543).
F. Russoli and F. Minervino, Lopera completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, p. 129, no. 936 (illustrated, p. 128).
Exhibited
Paris, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Degas dans les collections françaises, exposition organisée au profit de la Ligue Nationale contre le Taudis, 1955, p. 51, no. 122 (illustrated, p. 42; titled Femme nue à la draperie bleue and dated 1886).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Edgar Degas: Exposition organisée au profit de la Société des amis du Louvre, June-October 1960, no. 44.

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Max Carter
Max Carter International Director, Head of Department

Lot Essay

In the mid-1880s, Edgar Degas made a concerted effort to establish himself as the leading innovator of the modern nude. While this subject had always been a crucial part of his oeuvre, first appearing in a classical guise, it was not until the end of this seminal decade of his career that the female nude came to the fore in Degas’s art, most often pictured in the form of a bather undertaking her daily ablutions in the private sanctum of her toilette, a truly radical setting for this motif.
Painted circa 1887-1890, Femme en peignoir bleu le torse découvert is one such work. Rendered on an impressively large scale, this oil—a rare medium for the artist at this time—depicts a bather immersed in a private reverie, her arms raised as if drying her hair or stretching, causing the side of her torso to glow in the light while the rest of her body appears cloaked in dramatic shadow. Unlike other works of this subject from this period, this red-headed woman is not obviously pictured amid the domain of her bedroom but instead appears within an enigmatic, indefinable setting rendered with clouds of luminous color. As a result, the painting is imbued with a timeless quality, referencing the art of the old masters that Degas so revered—recalling Titian’s bathing Venus or Ingres’s La Source—as well as being completely of its time, stripped of mythological or historical context, the towel around her waist a reminder that she is a contemporary woman, not a goddess, nymph or biblical figure.
A year before he began the present work, Degas had debuted a number of bathing figures in pastel in the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition of 1886—his submission for which consisted of six female nudes, “bathing, washing, drying themselves, toweling themselves, combing their hair or having it combed,” as he described in the catalogue of the show (quoted in R. Kendall, Degas: Beyond Impressionism, exh. cat., National Gallery, London, 1996, p. 141). With strikingly original poses captured from often vertiginous viewpoints in closely cropped compositions, these very real, unidealized nudes offered an entirely new conception of this subject during the closing years of the nineteenth century. As in the present work, the identity of the female figure is unknown; likewise, in many of the toilette scenes the class of the women was obscure, leaving viewers and critics more familiar with regarding the nude in some form of narrative context, unsure if they were viewing a brothel, a boudoir, or in some cases, a bourgeois bedroom. As Degas explained, “two centuries ago, I would have been painting ‘Susannah Bathing’, now I just paint ‘Women in a Tub’” (quoted in R. Kendall, Degas by Himself: Drawings, Paintings, Writings, London, 2000, p. 318).
One of Degas’s favorite motif was of a woman with her arms raised to comb or tend to her hair, appearing in multiple nudes, as well as in other subjects of his oeuvre. He explored this pose from every angle, relishing the depiction of the woman’s loose, tumbling locks. A similar figure appears in the Musée d’Orsay’s pastel of the same period (Lemoisne, no. 930), this time appearing seated, a towel likewise tied round her waist while she combs out her long russet colored hair. For Degas, this pose not only offered an opportunity to portray a staged form of feminine eroticism, combined with a radical private domestic setting, but also the chance to immerse himself in the natural poses and self-absorbed gestures of his abluting models, conveying them in compositions that abound with resplendent contrasts of color, texture, line and form, as the present work brilliantly shows.
Indeed, by this time, loose waves of long hair had become synonymous with sensuality and sexuality in the art of both academic and avant-garde painters, a fact that Degas was well aware of and indeed played with in his own iterations of this motif. As Richard Kendall has explained, “Common to all [Degas's] depictions, and perhaps responsible for some of their poignancy, is a rudimentary paradox. On one hand, the act of combing, brushing or attending to the hair is one of the most banal and wearisome of daily routines, associated with personal hygiene as much as glamor. In stark contrast to this banality, hair-combing has a rich and allusive history, intersected by allegorical, literary and sexual traditions, many of which were known to Degas” (op. cit., 1996, pp. 218-219).
The upwardly reaching pose of the protagonist of Femme en peignoir bleu le torse découvert also appeared in the guise of Degas’s dancers. In a number of the artist’s ambitious early ballet scenes of the 1870s, a similarly posed dancer appears, stretching upwards, elbows bent and crossed, in a moment of unselfconscious exhaustion (she appears, for example, on the left hand side of the iconic trio of works, each titled Répétitión d’un ballet sur la scène, Lemoisne, nos. 340, 400 and 498). This pose had its genesis in the art of the past, specifically a painting that Degas knew by heart: Andrea Mantegna’s Crucifixion (Musée du Louvre, Paris), in which one of the crucified thieves is found in this same outstretched position. In so much of his work from the 1870s onwards, Degas reveled in blending the art of the past with the contemporary world that he was depicting. “O Giotto, let me see Paris, and you Paris, let me see Giotto,” he passionately declared in one of his notebooks, describing this powerful artistic fusion that he often concocted in his compositions (quoted in R. Kendall and J. Devonyar, Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2011, p. 27).
Femme en peignoir bleu le torse découvert remained in Degas’s possession for the rest of his life. It was sold in the first of the artist’s estate sales in 1918. Subsequently it was acquired by Gaston Monteux, a wealthy industrialist, who had homes in Paris and the Cap d’Antibes. Monteux was a prominent collector of modern art. The painting entered the collection of Monteux’s daughter, Germaine, and son-in-law, the French lawyer, Bernard Reichenbach, who together inherited and also acquired, a notable art collection. In 1929, after Monteux’s death, they built a lavish home, the Hôtel Reichenbach, at 18 rue Alfred-Dehondencq in Paris, designed by a leading architect of the time, Jean-Charles Moreux.
Reichenbach sold works from his collection in a sale at Hôtel Drouot in Paris held in 1937. This auction included the present work, together with masterpieces such as a reclining nude by Amedeo Modigliani, now in the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, as well as Henri Matisse’s Jeune fille devant un aquarium, which was bought by Dr Albert Barnes and now resides in The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, as well as works by Pablo Picasso, Pierre Bonnard, and others. Femme en peignoir bleu le torse découvert later entered the collection of John T. Dorrance, Jr., heir to the Campbell Soup Company fortune.

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