In the last two decades of his career, Degas' depictions of bathers were among his favourite subjects, second only in frequency to his studies of dancers. Both series enabled the artist to evoke the expressiveness of the human figure and specifically to render the female body in a variety of poses and environments, from public performaces on stage to private moments after the bath.
The theme of women at their toilette appealed to Degas as both an opportunity to engage in methodical studies of an individual subject and an occasion to present distinctly modern women in domestic environments. This work exemplifies a statement made in 1886 by art critic Théodore Duret, who wrote that degas 'has found new situations for the nude, in interiors, among rich fabrics and cushioned furniture. he has no goddesses to offer, none of the legendary heroines of tradition, but the woman as she is, occupied with her ordinary habits of life or of the Toilette' (quoted in R. Kendall, exh. cat., Degas: Beyond Impressionism, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1996, p. 150).
In La sortie du bain Degas employs a pose that was common in his late bather series, in which a figure leans forward to dry her legs or feet, simoultaneously contracting her body and exposing her back. The bather's orientation illustrates the notion, asserted by an early champion of Degas, that this particular perspective is extraordinarily expressive, 'a back should reveal temperament, age, and social position and a gesture should reveal an entire range of feelings' (quoted in L.E.E. Duranty, exh. cat., 'The New Painting: Concerning a Group of Artists Exhibiting at the Durand Ruel Galleries', The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, The National Gallery of Art, 1996, p. 44). While the woman's pose almost entirely conceals the front of her body, at the same time the black contours separate her from the surrounding space, making her a central presence in a strikingly animated composition.