EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
Femme mettant son corset
signed 'Degas' (upper right)
pastel on paper laid down on paper
19 1/4 x 19 1/8 in. (48.9 x 48.5 cm.)
Drawn circa 1883
Estate of the artist; Second sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 11-13 December 1918, lot 130.
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired at the above sale through Ambroise Vollard).
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, January 1920).
H.O. Hughes (acquired from the above, April 1920).
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, July 1920).
Chester Johnson Gallery, Chicago (acquired from the above, April 1929).
Helen Hayes, New York (by 1958).
M. Pinto, Paris.
Private collection, France.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired from the above, January 1963).
Frank Perls Gallery, Beverly Hills (acquired from the above, March 1967).
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, New York, 9 May 1989, lot 10.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty at the above sale.
P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1947, vol. III, p. 420, no. 742 (illustrated, p. 421).
J. Lassaigne and F. Minervino, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Degas, Paris, 1974, p. 126, no. 882 (illustrated).
New York, Charles E. Slatkin Galleries, Renoir, Degas: A Loan Exhibition of Drawings, Pastels, Sculptures, November-December 1958, no. 37.?
Schaffhausen, Museum zu Allerheiligen, Die welt des Impressionismus, June-September 1963, p. 21, no. 39a (titled Frau beim Anziehen).
?Denver Art Museum, Degas: A Passion for Perfection, February-May 2018.

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Joshua Glazer
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Lot Essay

Femme mettant son corset was executed circa 1883, a critical moment of transition in Degas's career. Around this time, he markedly shifted the course of his art, abandoning many of the quintessential motifs of his Impressionist years, such as the café-concert and the race track. Concentrating almost exclusively on the themes of the dancer and the woman at her toilette, Degas radically simplified his compositions, stripping away all narrative structure and focusing his attention on a single figure or figural group. At the same time, his exploration of color and texture became ever bolder and more experimental. Berthe Morisot described Degas's late work as "more and more extraordinary," while Pierre-Auguste Renoir remarked to Ambroise Vollard, "If Degas had died at fifty [in 1884], he would have been remembered as an excellent painter, no more. It is after his fiftieth year that his work broadens out and that he really becomes Degas" (quoted in Degas: Beyond Impressionism, exh. cat., National Gallery, London, 1996, p. 10). Likewise, Richard Kendall has written: "Between 1880 and 1890—effectively the middle years of his life—Degas's art underwent a slow, deliberate, and radical transformation. Not just the pictures themselves, but the circumstances in which they were made, the techniques involved in their fabrication, and the means of their dispersal into the wider world were fundamentally recast, along with their relationship to the artist's visual surroundings. Though some of Degas's subjects remained familiar, notably his representations of the ballet and the female toilette, even these took on new meanings and shed those of the past" (ibid., p. 173).
Depicting a young woman fastening her corset, the present pastel is closely related in subject matter to Degas's celebrated late images of women bathing and combing their hair. Beginning in the 18th century, painters and printmakers had frequently exploited the motif of the corset for its erotic charge. Edouard Manet's Nana of 1877, for instance, named after the courtesan in Emile Zola's eponymous novel, reveals its subject in an alluring blue corset, and Degas himself had depicted corset-clad prostitutes in his brothel monotypes from 1876-1877. In the present work, by contrast, Degas has stripped away the sexual connotations of the corset, depicting a modestly clad woman absorbed in the private daily ritual of dressing. Notably, the corset had become a topic of particular interest among respectable women in the mid-1870s, when the shape of fashionable dresses changed to include a tight bodice that extended downward over the hips. These form-fitting dresses required an elaborate undergarment called the corset-cuirasse, which became an indispensable part of a woman's wardrobe. Between 1880 and 1882, shortly before Degas executed this pastel, Henri de Montaut drew a series of illustrations of corsets for the popular periodical, La Vie Parisienne. As David Kunzle has explained, "Having been always regarded as essentially invisible and utilitarian, corsets became fashion-objects, an artistic cult in their own right" ("The Corset as Erotic Alchemy: From Rococo Galanterie to Montaut's Physiologies," The Woman as Sex Object: Studies in Erotic Art, 1730-1970, London, 1973, p. 121).

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