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).
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