Lot 3
  • 3

Edgar Degas

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Edgar Degas
  • Femme s'essuyant les pieds
  • stamped Degas (lower left)
  • pastel on paper laid down on board
  • 45.7 by 58cm.
  • 18 by 22 7/8 in.


Estate of the artist (sold: Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, Atelier Degas, 2ème Vente, 11th-13th December 1918, lot 63)

Charles Comiot, Paris (acquired by 1927)

Yolande Mazuc, Caracas

Wildenstein & Co., New York (acquired from the above in 1947)

Mr & Mrs Morris Sprayregen, Atlanta (acquired by 1956)

Jacqueline & Matt Friedlander, Moultrie, Georgia (acquired by 1978. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 14th November 1984, lot 17)

Philip & Muriel Berman, Allentown, Pennsylvania (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 4th November 2004, lot 42)

Purchased at the above sale by the late owner


New York, Wildenstein & Co., Loan Exhibition of Degas, 1949, no. 82

Toledo, Ohio, Toledo Museum of Art, Degas, 1950

New York, Wildenstein & Co., The Nude in Paintings, 1956, no. 29

Atlanta, The High Museum of Art, Drawings from Georgia Collections, 19th & 20th Centuries, 1981, no. 17

Atlanta, The High Museum of Art (on extended loan, 1984)

Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Degas in Philadelphia Collections, 1985

Ottawa, Musée des Beaux-Arts du Canada & New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Degas, 1988-89, no. 312, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from circa 1895)

Collegeville, Ursinus College, Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art, A Passion for Art: Selections from the Berman Collection, 1989

Vienna, Albertina Museum, Goya bis Picasso. Meisterwerke der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2005, no. 69, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Munich, Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Das Ewige Auge - Von Rembrandt bis Picasso. Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2007, no. 116, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud; Florence, Palazzo Strozzi & Vienna, Albertina Museum, Impressionismus - Wie das Licht auf die Leinwand kam, 2008-10, no. 274, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Edgar Degas, The Late Work, 2012-13, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


François Fosca, 'La Collection Comiot', in L'Amour de l'Art, Paris, April 1927, illustrated p. 111

Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son œuvre, Paris, 1946, vol. III, no. 1137, illustrated p. 659

Jean Crenelle, 'The Perfection of Degas', in Arts, New York, April 1960, illustrated p. 40

John Updike, Just Looking, New York, 1990, illustrated in colour p. 111


Executed on paper and laid down on the artist's board. There are a set of creases above the figure's head at the edge of the sheet which are intrinsic to the work. Apart from the medium being very slightly flattened, this work is in very good condition. Colours: In comparison to the printed catalogue illustration, the colours are overall considerably more subtle and less warm in the original.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Femme s’essuyant les pieds belongs to Degas’ remarkable series of pastels of female nudes after a bath. One of the artist’s most iconic subjects, the bather began to appear with increasing frequency in his work from the early 1880s. In his works on the subject of women at their toilette, the artist often depicted them in the process of washing or, as in the present pastel, drying various parts of their body, which allowed him to explore unusual contortions of the nude. The present work, executed around 1893, depicts a bather leaning against her tub and drying her feet. Degas executed several versions of the same pose, rendering the model from different vantage points in the room (figs. 1 & 2). Here the view appears to be from slightly above the figure, an angle that accentuates the broad expanse of her back. The practice of repeatedly painting and drawing a given subject allowed Degas to study the pose from different angles and to gain a better understanding of the beauty and complexity of human anatomy.


Unlike his pictures of the ballet and the racetrack, Degas’ bather scenes were usually staged in the artist’s studio. Nevertheless, this pastel effectively recreates the spontaneity of the act and the voyeuristic experience of watching a woman at her toilette. To create a sensation of warmth in the room after the bath, Degas uses rich pastels of reds and oranges. Leaning against the bath tub, the model is positioned on what appears to be a lush, oriental rug, executed in short brushstrokes of orange, blue and white tones. Her upper body is bent over as she reaches for her foot, and her face is hidden from the viewer. While in some similar compositions Degas rendered the bather in the presence of another female (fig. 3), in this work she is depicted alone and at close view, emphasising the intimacy of the image.


In painting the nudes and semi-nudes, whom Degas studied so assiduously, the artist was interested in exploring the female body, rather than in representing his sitters as individuals. He rarely personified them, and concentrated instead on depicting the human form in a variety of rituals and movements. Commenting on Degas’ fascination with the representation of the human body, his contemporary Georges Jeanniot noted: ‘Degas was very concerned with the accuracy of movements and postures. He studied them endlessly. I have seen him work with a model, trying to make her assume the gestures of a woman drying herself, tilted over the high back of a chair covered with a bath towel. This is a complicated movement. You see the two shoulderblades from behind; but the right shoulder, squeezed by the weight of the body, assumes an unexpected outline that suggests a kind of acrobatic gesture, a violent effort’ (G. Jeanniot, quoted in Robert Gordon & Andrew Forge, Degas, New York, 1988, p. 223).


This work is a wonderful example of Degas' mastery of pastel, the medium that would dominate his œuvre during the last decades of his life. By the time that he executed Femme s’essuyant les pieds, his approach to the subject of the bather had become bolder and more confident than that demonstrated in his compositions from the 1880s, and he employed the medium of pastel with a greater sense of spontaneity. Much like the crosshatching colour techniques of the old masters, Degas emphasised the interlacing and layering of colour, resulting in the zigzagged and striated appearance of the present work. The success of his late pastels of bathers and their importance in the artist’s œuvre was acknowledged by John Rewald: ‘In his […] important pastels of dancers and nudes, he was gradually reducing the emphasis on line in order to seek the pictorial. Resorting to ever more vibrant colour effects, he found in his pastels a means to unite line and colour. While every pastel stroke became a colour accent, its function in the whole was often not different from that of the impressionist brush stroke. His pastels became multicoloured fireworks where all precision of form disappeared in favour of a texture that glittered with hatchings’ (J. Rewald, The History of Impressionism, New York, 1973, p. 566).