Description: PROPERTY FROM AN AMERICAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
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LA SORTIE DU BAIN
52.5 by 52.8cm.
20 5/8 by 20 3/4 in.
Executed circa 1895.
signed twice Degas (lower left)
pastel on joined sheets of paper
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the artist on 7th January 1902)
Peter Fuller, Brookline, Mass. (acquired on 8th July 1925)
Fuller Family Collection, Boston (sale: Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 5th November 1981, lot 176)
Robert Guccione & Kathy Keeton, New York (purchased at the above sale)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2001
London, Grafton Galleries, A Selection from Pictures by Boudin, Cézanne, Degas, 1905, no. 56 or 70
Boston, Art Club, Paintings loaned by Gov. Alvan T. Fuller, 1928, no. 5 (titled Femme sortant du bain and as dating from 1899)
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Independent Painters, 1935, no. 21 (titled Femme sortant du bain and as dating from circa 1899)
Boston, Institute of Modern Art, Boston Collections, 1937
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Art in New England: Paintings, Drawings and Prints from Private Collections in New England, 1939, no. 39, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Woman Drying Herself)
Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, The Nude in Art, 1946, no. 19 (titled Woman Drying Herself)
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais; Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada & New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Degas, 1988-89, no. 317, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Baigneuse s'essuyant and as dating from circa 1895)
Roslyn, Nassau County Museum of Art, Intimates and Confidants in Art, 1993
Roslyn, Nassau County Museum of Art, From Botticelli to Matisse: Masterworks of the Guccione Collection, 1994
George Moore, 'Degas', in Kunst und Künstler, no. 3, 1907-08, illustrated p. 104
Max Liebermann, Degas, Berlin, 1917, illustrated p. 24
Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son ~uvre, Paris, 1946, vol. III, no. 1340, illustrated p. 785 (as dating from 1899)
Franco Russoli & Fiorella Minervino, L'Opera completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, no. 1043, illustrated p. 133 (as dating from 1899)
Robert Gordon & Andrew Forge, Degas, New York, 1988, illustrated in colour p. 251 (as dating from circa 1895)
Degas inédit, Paris, 1989, no. 11, illustrated p. 512 (as dating from 1899)
Jean Sutherland Boggs & Anne Maheux, Degas pastels, London, 1992, no. 49, illustrated in colour p. 137 (as dating from circa 1895)
La Sortie du bain is a striking example of the artist's fascination with the female nude twisting her body in the process of drying after a bath, and one of Degas' finest pastels. The remarkable range of rich, vibrant tones and the beautifully balanced and proportioned treatment of the woman's body rank this among the most accomplished examples of the artist's celebrated series of bathers (figs. 1 & 2). 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 hidden by her raised arm.
Unlike his depictions of the ballet and the races, the bather scenes were, however, usually staged in the artist's studio since he could not otherwise observe this intimate ritual. Nevertheless, La Sortie du bain recreates the spontaneity of the act and the voyeuristic experience of watching a woman at her toilette. Georges Jeanniot, who had 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, op. cit., p. 223). Indeed, the artist often applied his knowledge of the female body, attained through observing dancers, on his images of bathers, and in the present work he depicted his model with an almost balletic twist of her upper body (fig. 3).
The extraordinary energy and modern quality of the present work are derived from the highly abstracted treatment of the surface, blending the fabric of the wall-paper, curtains, robes and towels into a continuous decorative pattern. Anne Maheux wrote about the present work: 'From the 1880s on, Degas's pastel technique evolved into a vocabulary of intense color applied in a bewildering array of marks: squiggles, zigzags, striations and zébrures [...] Here Degas employs a vast repertoire of strokes, and the entire surface of the composition has become a complex network of vibrating color, made more vibrant by the use of fixative that isolates each pastel layer from the next, preventing the colors from becoming a murky mess of smudges. The bather's flesh is composed of several layers of color over a preliminary charcoal drawing, the edges of which can be observed in the upraised arm. The saturated burgundy strokes of pastel against the rich salmon pink fabric on the chair equate the dry brushwork of the late oils. The added strip of paper along the top of the support accommodates the top of the hand, and the bottom strip - only a few centimeters wide - allows more of the slippered foot to be seen. With the additions, the support becomes an unusual perfect square' (A. Maheux, op. cit., p. 136).
In his pastels of the 1890s, Degas' focus moved away from the linear, towards a new interest in colour, and the present work is a magnificent example of his new found freedom of expression, allowing the artist to transform an everyday scene into a firework of strong, bright colours. This sense of spontaneity in execution is also reflected in his technique of adding strips of paper to the top and bottom of the sheet. Degas often employed this practice in his mature works, adapting the size and shape of his support in such a way as to suit the emerging composition. For all their daring modernity and an often shocking effect they had on their contemporary nineteenth-century audience, Degas' images of bathers were greatly admired at the time. The early critic J.-K. Huysmans discussed the series of bather pastels: 'What we may see in these works is the unforgettable veracity of these types, captured with a deep-seated and ample draughtsmanship, with a lucid and controlled passion, as though with a cold fever; what is to be seen is the ardent and subtle coloring, the mysterious and opulent tone of these scenes; the supreme beauty of this flesh tinted pink or blue by water, illuminated by windows hung with gauze in dim rooms' (quoted in R. Gordon & A. Forge, op. cit., p. 231).