Edgar DEGAS, Femme à sa toilette [woman bathing] Enlarge 1 /1

Edgar DEGAS

France 1834 – 1917

artist

Femme à sa toilette [woman bathing] 1880-85 Place made: Paris, Île-de-France, Ville de Paris department, France
Materials & Technique: drawings, monotypes, monotype, drawing drawing; monotype, printed in black ink; over drawing, in coloured pastels. Impression: unique

Dimensions: composition 27.8 h x 38.0 w cm sheet 32.2 h x 42.2 w cm
Cat Raisonné: P.-A. Lemoisne, 'Degas et son oeuvre', NY, 1984, Vol.II, p.352, no.623
Acknowledgement: The Poynton Bequest with the assistance of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation, 2009
Accession No: NGA 2009.50

In March 2009, the National Gallery of Australia announced the arrival of Edgar Degas’s Woman bathing (Femme à sa toilette) 1880–85, a significant pastel purchased in late February 2009 at the Yves Saint Laurent auction sale in Paris. It arrived in Canberra just in time to be displayed among Degas’s other remarkable works in the final week of the exhibition Degas: master of French art.

The subject of a woman at her toilette was one of Degas’s favourites. He returned to the theme often throughout his life, experimenting with almost endless variations of such imagery using different media. This pastel is of a woman viewed from behind, her face silhouetted against the light flooding through the drawn curtains of a boudoir. She is seated on a bidet. Derived from a term meaning ‘pony’ or ‘little horse’, a bidet was a narrow bath that a woman could sit astride while washing herself. Despite its daring subject matter, the pastel is a particularly intimate and tender rendering of the subject.

Around the time Degas created Woman bathing, he had become obsessed with working in pastel and he was to become known as the great French pastellist of the 19th century. Degas was aided in his success by a contemporary of his, the pastel–maker Henri Roché, who enhanced this medium by developing a rich array of powdered pigments and adding powdered pumice to his sticks of pastel. Pastels enabled the consummate draughtsman Degas to emphasise the linear qualities of compositions and, at the same time, to infuse a subject with colour.

In the late 1870s and1880s, Degas would often apply pastel in layers over a monotype—as in the case of Woman bathing. Adopting this method, Degas was able to embellish a silhouette of his bather and her surrounds with brilliant hues of blues, pinks, yellows and browns. The method also allowed him to add texture and patterned detail to his composition.

The work originally belonged to Degas’s brother René de Gas and, since then, was owned by a series of notable collectors in the French art world before being purchased by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in May 1987. The remarkable private collection of Saint Laurent and Bergé was assembled over three decades and mostly funded by the success of Saint Laurent’s ready–to–wear fashion.

The National Gallery of Australia had been looking for an important pastel or monotype to expand its collection of Degas’s works on paper. We are thrilled to have acquired such an important work at a price we could afford. Its purchase would not have been possible without the extraordinary benefaction of the late Orde Poynton AO, CMG, and the generosity shown by the patrons of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation’s 20th Anniversary Gala Dinner in March.

Visitors who saw the work in the exhibition Degas: master of French art or, subsequently, in Degas’ world: the rage for change will no doubt recall the beautiful silhouetted figure with its subtle colouration. However, for those who missed it, Woman bathing will be shown on a regular basis in the Gallery’s display of 19th–century international art.

Jane Kinsman
Senior Curator, International Art
in artonview, issue 58, winter 2009


in artonview, issue 58, winter 2009

The subject of a woman at her toilette was a favourite of Edgar Degas. He returned to the theme often throughout his life, experimenting with variations of such imagery using different media. This pastel is of a woman viewed from behind, her face silhouetted against the light flooding through the drawn curtains of a boudoir. She is seated on a bidet. Despite its daring subject matter, the pastel is an intimate and tender rendering of the subject.

Around the time at which Degas created Woman bathing, he was obsessed with working in pastel and would become known as the great French pastellist of the nineteenth century. Degas was aided in his success by a contemporary, the pastel-maker Henri Roché, who enhanced the medium by developing a rich array of powdered pigments and adding ground pumice to his sticks of pastel. Pastels enabled Degas, the consummate draughtsman, to emphasise the linear qualities of compositions and, at the same time, to infuse a subject with colour.

In the late 1870s and 80s, Degas would often apply pastel in layers over a monotype—as in the case of Woman bathing. Adopting this method, Degas was able to embellish a silhouette of his bather and her surrounds with brilliant hues of blues, pinks, yellows and browns. The technique also allowed him to add texture and patterned detail to his composition.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014