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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Woman Washing” by Edgar Degas (Museo Soumaya)

Edgar Degas - Woman Washing

“Woman Washing” by Edgar Degas

“Woman Washing” by Edgar Degas depicts a female bather washing the back of her neck with a washcloth.  This pastel drawing is part of a series of drawings, preliminary sketches in pastels and oils by Degas that depict women bathing. Degas often used sketches as a preliminary step to study the light and the composition for his paintings. This work is part of a series of sketches in pastels which depict women bathing, some showing women in awkward, unnatural positions. Degas, said, he intended to create a feeling in the viewer:

“as if you looked through a keyhole.” 

Degas examined the human figure with its many nuances and possibilities in his series of nude bathers. Degas set up tubs and basins in his studio and asked his models to go through their usual routines during their baths and personal care. He captured them in their natural poses and from different perspectives to revealed new possibilities in his composition. Degas has created an intimate and spontaneous piece of art that captures the dynamic act of bathing.

Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas (1834–1917) was prolific in paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. He was fond of the subject of dance, and more than half of his works depict dancers. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, although Degas rejected the term, preferring to be called a Realist. He was masterly in depicting movement, as can be seen in his various masterpieces of dancers, racecourse subjects and female nudes.

Edgar Degas Facts

  • Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas was born in Paris, France, in 1834.
  • He was the eldest son of a wealthy banker, and a Creole woman from New Orleans, who died when Degas was 13.
  • His father appreciated his son’s artistic talent, but he wanted his son to become a lawyer, so Degas duly enrolled in law school, but soon dropped out.
  • Degas was also a sculptor but did not make his sculptures for the public.
  • The only sculpture Degas ever exhibited publicly was The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, in 1881.
  • Dancers were frequent subjects in his art, particularly the dancers of the Paris Opera.
  • He is famous for his paintings of ballerinas, at work, in rehearsal or at rest.
  • A significant theme of Degas’ work was paintings of women in the bath or at their toilette.
  • Degas’ interest in the female nude, persisted throughout his career.
  • Horses and horse racing were also key subjects of Degas work.
  • Degas produced some 45 oil paintings of horse races.
  • Degas lived into the 20th century, and promoted his work tirelessly and became an art collector.
  • He did have close relationships with several women, including the American painter Mary Cassatt.
  • Edgar Degas sided with the “anti-Dreyfusards” the Dreyfus Affair. His antisemitism alienated him from many of his friends.
  • Degas was troubled with eye problems. He had to wear dark glasses outdoors and stop his work in 1912.
  • Edgar Degas died in Paris in 1917. He was 83 years old.
  • Degas never married.
  • Today Degas is considered a pioneer of the Impressionism movement.

Woman Washing

  • Title:                Woman Washing
  • Artist:               Edgar Degas
  • Year:                 1906
  • Medium:          Pastel on paper
  • Dimensions:     66.1 × 57.6 cm (26 × 22.7 in)
  • Museum:          Museo Soumaya

Edgar Degas

Explore the Museo Soumaya

Reflections

  • Do you feel “as if you looked through a keyhole”?
  • What feeling do Pastels convey?
  • Is Degas the most famous of the pastel artist?
  • Art is not what you see but what you make others see.

Edgar Degas Quotes

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“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

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“Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.”

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“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.”

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“Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.”

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“It is true. There is someone who feels as I do.”

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“We were created to look at one another, weren’t we.”

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“Art is vice. You don’t marry it legitimately; you rape it.”

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“What a delightful thing is the conversation of specialists! One understands absolutely nothing, and it’s charming.”

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“And even this heart of mine has something artificial. The dancers have sewn it into a bag of pink satin, pink satin slightly faded, like their dancing shoes.”

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“So that’s the telephone? They ring, and you run.”

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“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

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“I would rather do nothing than do a rough sketch without having looked at anything. My memories will do better.”

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“Art is not what you see but what you make others see.”

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“I want to be famous but unknown!”

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“A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, and some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain, you end up boring people.”

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“I have seen some very beautiful things through my anger, and what consoles me a little, is that through my anger I do not stop looking.”

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“Success! Success! The enemy of progress!”

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“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.”

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“Muses work all day long and then at night get together and dance.”

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“Art critic! Is that a profession? When I think we are stupid enough, we painters, to solicit those people’s compliments and to put ourselves into their hands! What a shame!”

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“Should we even accept that they talk about our work?”

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“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
– Edgar Degas

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Photo Credit: Edgar Degas [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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