EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
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EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Femme tenant un chapeau

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
Femme tenant un chapeau
stamped with the signature 'Degas' (Lugt 658; lower left)
pastel and charcoal on paper
17 3/4 x 23 1/4 in. (45.2 x 59 cm.)
Executed circa 1885
The artist’s estate, Paris; second sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 13 December 1918, lot 169.
M. Aubert, Paris, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Private collection, France.
Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in October 2009.
P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son œuvre, vol. III, Paris, 1947, no. 834, p. 482 (illustrated p. 483).
Exh. cat., Degas, New York, 1988, fig. 211, p. 400 (illustrated; titled 'At the Milliner's').
R. Gordon & A. Forge, Degas, London, 1988, p. 275 (illustrated p. 134).
Exh. cat., Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade, San Francisco, 2017, fig. 63, p. 105 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Schmit, Degas, May - June 1975, no. 30, p. 60 (illustrated p. 61).
Tubingen, Kunsthalle, Edgar Degas: Pastelle, Oelskizzen, Zeichnungen, January - March 1984, no. 160, p. 383 (illustrated p. 44); this exhibition later travelled to Berlin, Nationalgalerie, April - May 1984.

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Lot Essay

"Les premiers tableaux de modistes parurent vers 1876. Ils troublèrent et désorientèrent le public, qui resta effaré, ne sachant s'il devait se moquer ou admirer" P. Lafond

In the mid-1870s, Degas embarked on a series of compositions set in milliners' and dressmakers' shops, which provide a range of informal views of Parisian life at a time when the city was newly celebrated as a fashion centre. Degas often accompanied his friend and fellow artist, Mary Cassatt, on her shopping expeditions to these boutiques, seeking inspiration for these 'genre' paintings. Whereas dressmaking was already largely manufactured by this time, millinery remained an art form, with each chapeau individually and painstakingly crafted by hand. The modiste shop, with its wealth of well-dressed patrons and labouring artisans, provided source material that would captivate the artist and his canvases throughout the remainder of his lifetime.
Contemplating an elegant although unfinished hat, the sitter leans against the table so absorbed that she takes no notice of the artist observing her in this intimate moment. Ever the voyeur, Degas succeeds in capturing a 'snap-shot', and this simple, candid view of an elegant customer is only enhanced through the immediacy of the pastel and charcoal media.

This expertly rendered drawing is a study for the celebrated oil painting, Chez la modiste (Lemoisne 832), housed in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago since 1933 and the largest, and arguably most ambitious, of Degas’ canvases on this subject. One of three preparatory sketches for the final composition, the present work is compositionally closest to the fully-realized painting, and alludes to the larger shop display. The sitter in the present work as well as in one of the other studies is not the milliner herself, but rather a customer, elegantly dressed in the latest fashion and sporting the unmistakable status symbol of bourgeois culture: the chapeau. Each figure is nonetheless almost interchangeable in her assumption of the pose, gazing fixedly towards the hat which she delicately handles with gloved hands.

Degas undoubtedly revealed in this tension between colliding classes, as the final composition in oil delights in the ambiguity of the sitter, oscillating between creator and consumer. This conflation of disparate social classes disturbed his contemporary audience, who, while accustomed to realist depictions of the modiste and dependent upon her expertise, were predisposed to questioning the extent or limitations of her work servicing Paris’s upper echelon. Although Degas likely took pleasure in this dichotomy, the present drawing, with its tender and intimate line, instead seems almost entirely laudatory. Equally enmeshed in his own craft, he reveals not only his reverence for his milliner, but an enduring and implicit kinship between artist and artisan.

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