Lot 6
  • 6

EDGAR DEGAS | Femme prenant un tub

5,000,000 - 7,000,000 USD
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  • Edgar Degas
  • Femme prenant un tub
  • Signed Degas (lower right)
  • Pastel on paper mounted on board
  • 28 1/2 by 22 1/2 in.
  • 72.5 by 57.2 cm
  • Executed circa 1886.


M & Mme Émile Boivin, Paris

Léon Marc François, Paris (and sold: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 20, 1935, lot 2)

Georges Lévy, Paris

Wildenstein & Co, New York (acquired in 1958)

Mr. Richard Bernhard & Mrs. Dorothy Lehman Bernhard, New York (acquired from the above in 1959)   

Thence by descent


New York, Wildenstein & Co., Degas, 1960, no. 49, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Femme se lavant)

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969 (on loan)

New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Edgar Degas, 1978, no. 37, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Post-Impressionism. Cross-Currents in European and American Painting 1880-1906, 1980, no. 7, illustrated in the catalogue (dated circa 1885)

Tubingen, Kunsthalle Tubingen & Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Edgar Degas, 1984, no. 180, illustrated in color in the catalogue (titled Rückenakt mit Handtuch und Schwamm and dated 1886-90)

London, National Gallery & Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Degas Beyond Impressionism, 1996-97, no. 10, illustrated in color in the catalogue (dated circa 1886-88)


Paul Lafond, Degas, vol. II, Paris, 1918, p. 52

Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, vol. III, Paris, 1946, no. 883, illustrated p. 515

Pierre Cabanne, Edgar Degas, Paris, 1960, illustrated pl. 118

Franco Russoli & Fiorella Minervino, L’Opera Completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, no. 922, illustrated p. 128 (titled Donna che si spugna la coscia destra)

Antoine Terasse, Edgar Degas, Munich, 1973, illustrated p. 62

Antoine Terasse, Edgar Degas, Frankfurt, Berlin & Vienna, 1981, no. 489, illustrated n.p.

Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, vol. III, New York & London, 1984, no. 883, illustrated p. 515

Catalogue Note

Edgar Degas is widely considered to be the greatest exponent of pastel in modern art; no other artist created images possessed of such vibrancy, subtlety or profundity with the medium, and this exceptional work epitomizes his mastery. In Femme prenant un tub Degas explores the human form in a favored motif—a female figure during her bath—and uses pastel to elevate a humble moment into a sublime exposition of grace and beauty (see figs. 1 & 2).

This large and exhaustively worked pastel reveals Degas’s unique grasp of the medium's fundamental quality: directness. The simultaneously lively and intimate aura speaks to the versatility of the pastel crayon which allowed Degas to both draw and paint with immediate effect, producing dense opaque areas of raw color while paraphrasing elsewhere, without detriment to the overall composition. He could capture fleeting moments of light upon flesh and cloth with an assuredness unachievable via oil or watercolor. By applying color in a variety of ways—swift strokes, stippling spots and dashes, smudging and scraping—Femme prenant un tub possesses an incomparably nuanced and rich surface that conveys a uniquely sensitive vision.

Degas obsessively depicted the female figure throughout his career. His artfully balanced and proportioned treatment of the woman’s body in the present work rank it among the most accomplished examples of the artist’s celebrated series of bathers. As in his portrayals of ballet dancers, Degas preferred to capture his models in a private moment, when they appear fully absorbed in their activity, completely unaware of being observed. The sense of privacy is amplified by the artist's preferred viewpoint, depicting his subject from the back, her face cast in shadow. Unlike his depictions of the ballet and the races, the bathers were usually staged in the artist’s studio for practical reasons (see fig. 3). Nevertheless Femme prenant un tub recreates the spontaneity of the act and the voyeuristic experience of watching a woman at her toilette. Georges Jeanniot, who witnessed Degas at work on his pastels, reminisced about his technique: “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…. 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” (quoted in R. Gordon & A. Forge, Degas, New York, 1988, p. 223).

Femme prenant un tub was created shortly after the last Impressionist exhibition. Hailed as a key piece of the artist’s transition from Impressionism to the greater experimentation found in his late works, Richard Kendall has opined that the present work, "gave notice of the simplicity, even austerity, of Degas’s late bathers. Neither furniture, drapery, domestic incident nor narrative structure disturbs the clarity of the scene in which an anonymous woman calmly and prosaically sponges her leg. Action, setting and model are eloquent only in their sparseness, but are made compelling through the bravura evocation of warm light and soft shadow, the dense but differentiated textures of skin and muscle, towel and carpet” (R. Kendall in Degas, Beyond Impressionism (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 174). It is Degas’ genius with pastel, combined with his love of radical cropping (which would later manifest in his passion for photography; see fig. 4) that lends warmth and concrete action to the present scene. “Characteriscically,” writes Kendall, “even at his most audacious Degas referred back to the past; the woman’s naked back recalls vividly one of the icons of Degas’s youth, Ingres’s Valpinçon bather” (ibid., p. 174; see fig. 5).