Throughout his career, Degas often returned to the theme of the milliner in his paintings, pastels and drawings. As wrote the art critic Edmond Duranty, who frequented the Café Guerbois aux Batignolles where Degas, Renoir and Pissarro among others met during the 1860s, “what we need is the special mark of the modern individual, in his clothes, in the middle of his social habits, at his home or in the street. “ (Edmond Duranty, La nouvelle Peinture, 1876).
Degas thus captured “modern life” through this theme and the new jobs available to women in the bustle of the Parisian boulevards, boutiques and department stores.
Degas often accompanied his women friends, in particular Marie Cassatt, to the milliner’s where the deployment of coloured hats and dresses, squeezed into intimate interiors, offered the possibility of new compositions. In Chez la modiste (At the Milliner’s) the painter applies his new approach to composition, with cut planes, the same he employed for representing dancers and the backstage of the Opera. The pastel medium perfectly reveals here the ephemeral aspect of the fabrics presented by the milliner. This original work has not appeared at auction since the second Degas sale in December 1918.
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