EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
Attente d'un client
signed 'Degas' (lower right)
pastel and charcoal over monotype on paper laid down on paper
Image size: 6 1/2 x 4 3/4 in. (16.4 x 12.1 cm.)
Sheet size: 7 1/2 x 5 5/8 in. (19 x 14.3 cm.)
Executed circa 1879
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Dikran Khan Kélékian, New York and Paris.
Mrs. Maurice Newton, New York; sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., New York, 1 November 1978, lot 14.
Shigeki Kameyama, Tokyo.
John R. Gaines, Lexington, Kentucky; sale, Christie's, New York, 14 May 1986, lot 12.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty at the above sale.
P. Louÿs, Mimes des courtisanes de Lucien, Paris, 1935, p. 10 (illustrated in color).
E.P. Janis, Degas Monotypes, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, 1968, no. 84 (illustrated).
J. Adhémar and F. Cachin, Degas: The Complete Etchings, Lithographs, and Monotypes, London, 1973, p. 281.
P. Brame and T. Reff, Degas et son oeuvre: A Supplement, New York, 1984, p. 86, no. 80 (illustrated, p. 87).
J. Lahr, "Vile Bodies: Terence Rattigan and Adam Rapp on the Filthy Rich" in The New Yorker, 17 October 2011, p. 95 (illustrated in color; dated 1876-1877).
R. Smith, "The Modern Degas You Haven't Seen" in The New York Times, 24 March 2016, p. 17 (illustrated in color).
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts and Paris, Musée d'Orsay, Degas and the Nude, October 2011-July 2012, pp. 74 and 224 (illustrated in color, p. 75, fig. 78; dated 1876-1877).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Edgar Degas: A Strange Beauty, March-July 2016, p. 231, no. 89 (illustrated in color, p. 145; dated circa 1877-1879).

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Lot Essay

Attente dun client is one of the small and important series of monotypes depicting scenes of Parisian brothels that Edgar Degas produced in the late 1870s. From the late 1860s onwards, Degas had dedicated himself to capturing modern life in his art. His work was filled with seemingly spontaneous, yet carefully constructed depictions of a host of subjects: ballet dancers both on stage and engaged in shadowy encounters in stage wings and dressing rooms, singers in café-concerts, or laundresses in backstreet washhouses. Following this desire to record these multifarious aspects of contemporary Paris, with the brothel scenes, Degas turned his eye to this hidden side of bourgeois life in Paris as he depicted both the prostitutes that peopled these institutions and the clients that frequented them. Degas’s works of this subject prefigured those of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and latterly Pablo Picasso, who was especially captivated by this enigmatic series.
Unmentioned by Degas in his private writings, never recorded as being exhibited in the artist’s lifetime, nor discussed in contemporary discourse, the brothel scenes occupy an enigmatic place within Degas’s oeuvre. As Jean Sutherland-Boggs has written, “No other aspect of Degas’s work has disconcerted his admirers as much as the fifty or so monotypes featuring brothel scenes” (Degas, exh. cat., Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1988, p. 296). It has been suggested that the initial idea for this series was inspired by literature. Both Joris-Karl Huysman’s Marthe: Histoire dune fille, published in Brussels in 1876, as well as Edmond de Goncourt’s story of a working-class girl forced into life of prostitution, La fille Elisa, have been suggested as starting points for Degas.
These works have also drawn speculation about Degas’s own relationship to these institutions—are they imagined scenes or perhaps drawn from memory. Like the abonnés whom Degas depicted in the stage wings and dancers’ dressing rooms in the Opéra, Degas’s upper-class origins meant these bourgeois realms would have been well-known to him. In Attente dun client and a number of other monotypes of this series, including the closely related Le Client (Janis, no. 85) and Le client sérieux (Janis, no. 86), the black-suited, often top-hat wearing clients appear in the scenes, their well-dressed presence indicating that these were high-class establishments. In the present work, this male figure is only just visible on the far left of the composition, his presence hinted to rather than made obvious.
These works also relate to the invention of photography, and specifically, the rise of pornographic imagery that this engendered. From demure to explicit, these photographs proliferated in Paris in the late nineteenth century, these images often featuring nude or semi-clothed women posed in highly decorated boudoir-like rooms. With its sumptuously decorated interior—the rich orange chaise-longues and chairs, and the ornately patterned carpet—the scene captured in the present work and others of this kind, “appear to have stepped right out of these photographs” (R. Rexer, “Stockings and Mirrors” in exh. cat., op. cit., 2016, p. 138). Yet, these were not mere replicas of this type of popular ephemera. Degas’s pictorial innovations—predominantly his subversive compositional structure—ensured that these are filled with a greater level of expression, enigma, and a compelling visual power. In many of these works, the female figures are distanced literally and metaphorically from the viewer. In Attente dun client, none of the reclining trio of women are posed frontally to the viewer. As a result, their expressions remain inscrutable, their physiognomic and physical features blurred. In addition, they are waiting, as the title and their postures indicate, for a client, lounging and at ease rather than on conscious display.
With these works, Degas returned to the nude, a subject he had not explored for around a decade prior. Like the Bathers which would rise to prominence in his art from the mid-1880s, Degas subverted artistic tradition by eschewing the conventional, classical idealism of the nude. Removed from a biblical or mythological setting, he set the female figure firmly within a contemporary realm—perhaps never more so than in these brothel works. With this series, Degas was not just exploring the social realities of his time, but was able to explore the expressive possibilities of the human form, capturing the figure in a range of poses and enacting a number of movements. This would remain an abiding interest in his art for the rest of his life.
Just under a century later, Picasso, who, on his first arrival in Paris in 1900 had followed in the footsteps of Degas, picturing scenes of modern life in the cosmopolitan capital, acquired a number of the artist’s brothel monotypes. In 1958 he showed his rapt visitors, Hélène Parmelin and Edouard Pignon, who recalled “Picasso showed us some monotypes by Degas that he has just bought. Magnificent. This is a Degas we didn’t know. Not the Degas of the laundresses, or the drawings, or the dancers. A Degas we’ve never seen before” (Picasso Looks at Degas, exh. cat., The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, 2010, p. 211). These works were not new to Picasso—he had likely seen them at the time of the artist’s posthumous studio sales in 1918, the first time that the public had been exposed to the brothel monotypes as a whole. This acquisition would later inspire a series of etchings in which Picasso portrayed Degas as a client visiting such an institution.

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