As a passionate artist well-known for his enthusiasm across a multitude of media, Edgar Degas's interest in photography has always been apparent. It is known that he first came into contact with Nadar around 1860, and he began to take his own photographs in the mid-1890s once photography was simplified for the amateur. Self-portraiture was always a significant part of his oeuvre, and photography was especially conducive to his explorations of distinctly orchestrated interior portraits.
Paul Poujaud described the events surrounding the making of this photograph in a letter to Marcel Guérin in 1931: 'I am sending you a small document for your Degas archive that you may find interesting. This is a photograph made by Degas, taken after dinner in the living room of Mr. Chausson in 1894, during a time when his passion for photography was very strong: Degas, in a very casual position, Mrs. Arthur Fontaine, the sister of Mrs. Lerolle and Mrs. Chausson, and I, Poujaud le noir. Degas composed the group and gave a signal to Guillaume Lerolle to release the shutter.' (Guérin, Lettres de Degas, B. Grasset. Rev. ed., 1945, pp. 249-250)
The similarity between his style of painting and his photographs is most evident in his unusual composition, and shortening of the foreground. In this image in particular, Malcolm Daniel notes, 'Degas's leaning pose and Poujaud's slouch parallel those of the figures in Degas's early canvas of about 1869-71, Sulking - so much so that it was once thought that the photograph served as a model for the painting. The similarity is not coincidental. Degas still had the early canvas in his studio and must have been thinking about it during the very months he was photographing, since another painting, entitled Conversation , from about 1895, is clearly based on it. Degas deposited Sulking at his dealer Durand-Ruel's only on December 27th, 1895.' (Daniel, Edgar Degas, Photographer, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999, p. 38.)
It is interesting to note that only sixty images by Degas are known from his two years spent as an avid photographer. There is an enlarged print of this image in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is believed that the present lot is the only extant contact print from the original negative.