Details
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
Le Bain (Femme dans sa baignoire)
signed 'Degas' (lower center)
pastel over monotype on paper
Image size: 15 x 11 in. (38.1 x 28 cm.)
Sheet size: 15 1/2 x 11 5/8 in. (39.5 x 29.5 cm.)
Executed circa 1886
Provenance
Edouard Vuillard, Paris.
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, March 1903).
M. Pellet, Paris (acquired from the above, November 1910).
Dr. Edouard Mollard, Paris (by 1937).
Anon. sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 20 June 1951, lot 5.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris.
Sam Salz, Inc., New York.
Aaron W. Davis, New York; Estate sale, Christie's, New York, 3 November 1982, lot 20.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty at the above sale.
Literature
F. Fénéon, "Aux magasins des marchands de tableaux" in La revue indépendante, February 1888, vol. VI, p. 309.
G. Grappe, L'art et le beau, Degas, London, 1909, vol. I (illustrated, pl. 40).
P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1947, vol. III, p. 588, no. 1010 (illustrated, p. 589; dated 1890).
J. Lassaigne and F. Minervino, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Degas, Paris, 1974, p. 128, no. 951 (illustrated, p. 129; dated circa 1890).
J.S. Boggs, ed., Degas, exh. cat., Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1988, pp. 388, 417-418 and 420 (illustrated, p. 388, fig. 197; dated circa 1883-1886).
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Boussod Valadon, January 1888.
London, Grafton Galleries, Pictures by Boudin, Cezanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, January-February 1905, no. 70.
Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Degas, March-April 1937, p. 103, no. 139.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Degas Sculptures, October 2003-January 2004.
Madrid, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, The Impressionists and Photography, October 2019-January 2020, pp. 229 and 242, no. 147 (illustrated in color, p. 242; dated circa 1890).

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Lot Essay

In February 1888, the art critic Félix Fénéon described Le Bain (Femme dans sa baignoire) in a review of Edgar Degas’s latest exhibition at the Galerie Boussod et Valadon, Paris. He wrote, “In a bathtub that is cut by the frame (red slippers) a woman, seen from behind, scrubs her shoulders” (“Aux magasins des marchands de tableaux” in La revue indépendante, February 1888, vol. VI, p. 309). In this vividly colored, tightly cropped pastel over monotype, Degas situates the viewer in the private realm of a woman’s bathroom, picturing a figure immersed in the act of bathing. It was this sense of striking intimacy and voyeurism that elicited great scandal when the artist began showing his pastels of this subject in the late 1880s. Nineteenth-century audiences were used to regarding the nude in a biblical, historical, or mythological guise, rather than seeing it in the undeniably contemporary realm of a domestic toilette. As Degas himself noted, “two centuries ago, I would have been painting ‘Susannah Bathing,’ now I just paint ‘Women in a Tub’” (quoted in R. Kendall, ed., Degas by Himself: Drawings, Prints, Paintings, Writings, Boston, 2000, p. 318).
Degas’s 1888 exhibition included at least five of his bathers. As well as the present work, Femme sortant du bain (Lemoisne, no. 891; Sold, Christie’s, London, 30 June 2021, lot 33), Le Tub (no. 876; Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, Connecticut), L’Epine (Femme se soignant le pied) (no. 1089, Private collection) and Femme nue, à genoux (no. 1008; Private collection) were also shown. While the first three of this group of pastels depict women bathing and in the process of leaving the bath, the latter two picture the figure in rarely seen and unexpected poses and activities. One shows a figure sitting on her bed, picking out a splinter from her foot; the other shows a woman kneeling on the ground, as if stretching. These diverse scenes reflect Degas’s desire to explore the myriad poses, movements and compositions that the motif of the solitary woman in her toilette offered. The endless variations offered the artist an inexhaustible subject that continued to inspire him for the rest of his career.
Fénéon described Degas’s nudes as a whole in the same review, “The pertinacious and never vain efforts of this cool visionary are dedicated to finding the line that will reveal his figures unforgettably and give them a life that is both definitive and stamped with genuine modernity. He delights in shielding his work from the comprehension of the passer-by and concealing its austere, unblemished beauty, imagining deceptive foreshortenings that alter proportions and suppress shapes” (La revue indépendante, vol. VI, February 1888, quoted in J.S. Boggs, Degas, exh. cat., Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1988, p. 417).
This was the second major exhibition of Degas’s radical bathers. The first had been the Eighth and final Impressionist exhibition held two years prior. Degas centered his submission for this show around his pastel nudes—as he described, a “Suite of female nudes bathing, washing, drying themselves, wiping themselves, combing themselves or being combed” (quoted in R. Thomson, Degas: The Nudes, London, 1988, p. 130). Despite the intense critical reaction, Degas did not hesitate in following up this presentation with the showing at Boussod et Valadon two years later.
Theo van Gogh, the gallery’s director, also included in this show a work by Paul Gauguin, for whom Degas served as an artistic hero. Gauguin had likely seen the 1886 Impressionist exhibition, and inspired, painted his own bathing scene, that was hung alongside Degas’s: Deux Baigneuses (Wildenstein, no. 241; Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires), painted in 1887. Gauguin was a visitor of the 1888 show, and made a number of copies of the pastels he saw there. These line drawings capture the outlines of the nude’s poses. “Drawing had been lost,” he later stated, in 1903, “it needed to be rediscovered. When I look at these nudes, I am moved to shout—it has indeed been rediscovered” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1988, p. 368).
Le Bain (Femme dans sa baignoire) was first acquired by Edouard Vuillard. Part of the Nabi group, he was deeply inspired by the work of Degas, as well as by his contemporaries, including Gauguin. Following Degas’s love of creating richly textured, patterned and colored domestic settings, he created compositions that are often filled with enigmatic, unknowable narratives, as in Degas’s bather scenes.
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