EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
Femme nue couchée
stamped with signature 'Degas' (Lugt 658; lower left); with atelier stamp (Lugt 657; on the reverse)
pastel over monotype on paper
12 7/8 x 16 3/8 in. (32.8 x 41.7 cm.)
Executed circa 1888-1890
Estate of the artist; First sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 6-8 May 1918, lot 148.
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Roland, Browse & Delbanco, London.
William Shand Kydd, Esq., London (by 1967).
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (May 1968).
William H. Schab Gallery, Inc., New York (acquired from the above, June 1973).
Private collection, Buenos Aires; sale, Christie's, New York, 15 May 1986, lot 108.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 28 June 1988, lot 13.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty at the above sale.
P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1946, vol. III, p. 426, no. 752 (illustrated, p. 427; dated circa 1883-1885).
E.P. Janis, "The Role of the Monotype in the Working Method of Degas - II," The Burlington Magazine, vol. 109, no. 767, February 1967, p. 80, no. 39 (illustrated; dated circa 1883-1885).
E.P. Janis, Degas Monotypes, Cambridge, 1968, no. 138 (illustrated; dated circa 1883-1885).
J. Adhémar and F. Cachin, Degas: The Complete Etchings, Lithographs and Monotypes, London, 1974, p. 282 (dated circa 1883-1885).
?J.S. Boggs, ed., Degas, exh. cat., Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1988, p. 412 (illustrated, fig. 223; dated circa 1888)?.
R. Thomson, Degas: The Nudes, London, 1988, p. 79, no. 69 (illustrated in color; titled Female Nude Reclining on a Bed).
R. Pelling, The Art of the Erotic, New York, 2017, p. 83 (illustrated in color).
Cambridge, Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum, Degas Monotypes, April-June 1968, no. 138 (illustrated; dated circa 1883-1885).
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Water Colors, Drawings, Gouaches, 1969, no. 10 (dated circa 1883-1885).
Stockholm, Svenska-Franska Konstgalleriet, Degas: Aquarelle und Zeichnungen, December 1969, no. 2 (titled Nu couché).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, The Painterly Print: Monotypes from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century, October 1980-March 1981, p. 102, no. 25 (illustrated in color; dated circa 1883-1885 and titled Reclining Nude at Rest).
The Art Institute of Chicago, Degas in The Art Institute of Chicago, July-September 1984, p. 144 (illustrated, fig. 68-2; dated circa 1883-1885).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Degas: A Strange New Beauty, March-April 2016, p. 155, no. 101 (illustrated in color).

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Lot Essay

Degas’s Femme nue couchée represents a shockingly intimate moment: a nude figure, just emerged from her bath, is sprawled across a tufted red sofa. Her towel is loosely wrapped around the lower half of her body, exposing her breasts, torso, arms and legs; yet she appears totally unselfconscious of her nudity—and unaware of the voyeuristic gaze of the artist, who observes her from above. Degas’s anonymous subject appears to revel in her unencumbered state, luxuriating in the tactile sensations of the plush couch and her own freshly bathed flesh. The entire scene is illuminated by the soft glow of an oil lamp, a glass orb on a table alongside the bather.
This work is an exquisite example of Degas’s process of drawing with pastel over monotype prints. In the late 1870s, Degas became fascinated by this unique printmaking procedure, which involved applying ink to the surface of a metal plate and impressing it upon a damp sheet of paper; this yielded a painterly, monochromatic image with dramatic contrasts of light and shadow. In her groundbreaking article, “The Role of the Monotype in the Working Method of Degas,” art historian Eugenia Parry Janis described Femme nue couchée as the second impression of a monotype—the first impression of which, Femme étendue sur son lit, is now in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Janis also pointed out that the linear impressions of the edges of the metal plate are still visible on the present sheet, a subtle sign of the artist’s multimedia approach.
Unlike the Chicago monotype print, however, Degas embellished Femme nue couchée by adding pastel over the black ink. Degas exploited the rich pigmentation and material properties of pastel to brilliant effect; as the Goncourt brothers mused: “The impasto of pastel….flickering flecks of crumbly crayon against the blended pastel, some light touches of crayon of another color, which turn and play in the direction of muscles, interrupting and diversifying the general tone, give it the uneven and nuanced color of flesh” (quoted in C. Armstrong, Degas: Odd Man Out, Chicago, 1991, p. 62).
Degas’s hybrid experiments with monotype and pastel remained a largely private project—though art historian Carol Armstrong has estimated that nearly a quarter of Degas’s pastel, gouache and peinture à l’essence works were executed over monotype impressions (ibid., p. 162). The art critic Arsène Alexandre wrote of Degas’s monotypes after his death in 1918, “There were, during Degas’s lifetime, only a few rare individuals, discerning people who were not slaves to prevailing opinions, who grasped the significance and appreciated the original beauty of these distinctive works” (“Degas: Graveur et lithographie,” Les Arts, vol. XV, no. 171, 1918, pp. 18-19). Indeed, the majority of these sheets—singular impressions as well as those enhanced with pastel—were never exhibited in public, and only emerged from the artist’s studio after his death. The present work, for example, was sold at the first atelier sale in May 1918. After entering the collection of the French dealer Ambroise Vollard, this sheet passed between private hands until it was acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty in 1988—the same year as the landmark exhibition of Degas’s paintings, pastels and prints at the Grand Palais in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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