About This Artwork

Edgar Degas
French, 1834-1917

The Bath, 1892/95

Pastel and charcoal on off-white wove paper
485 x 324 mm

Gift of Dorothy Braude Edinburg to the Harry B. and Bessie K. Braude Memorial Collection, 2013.925

Images of women washing themselves are ubiquitous in the history of Western art. The female nude in general has long been considered one of the most important subjects of artistic expression, most importantly in the form of history painting, traditionally represented in classical or biblical subjects. However, in the late 19th century progressive artists spurned traditional history painting in favor of contemporary subject matter—art of the moment that represented real life. The artists featured in this gallery made the theme of the bathing woman thoroughly modern. During this period, public health officials encouraged regular bathing not only for cosmetic reasons, but also as a means to combat diseases such as cholera. As a result, more and more people washed indoors regularly. The images in this gallery by Edgar Degas, Félix Vallotton, Pierre Bonnard, and Suzanne Valadon, for example, show modern accouterments of indoor plumbing—large porcelain tubs and taps for running water. Though these prints and drawings allude to contemporary industrial developments and evolving societal expectations, they remain principally devoid of narrative. They depict anonymous women across a range of social classes, including some models who were probably prostitutes, in the intimate act of washing. These artists used the subject of the bathing woman as an evocative means to an end—especially Degas, who returned to the theme of the bather literally hundreds of times between the late 1870s and his death in 1917. Degas utilized bathers to explore the possibilities of the human form—employing multiple angles and viewpoints, depicting its shape and various movements, and reflecting the many colors and textures of the environment.

— Exhibition text panel, Undressed: The Fashion of Privacy, June 22–September 29, 2013, Galleries 124–127.

Definite charcoal contours situate Degas’s model in the center of the sheet. Around her, in unblended color, loose strokes of pastel describe the interior. By working with his chosen media in concert, Degas effectively maximized their potential: soft charcoal shading emulates the tactility of skin, while blunt, blue lines convey the cool surface of the bathtub. Bathing scenes were a mainstay of Degas’s later career. From the 1890s, over a period of 20 years, he produced almost 200 on the theme. He often showed his models from behind, as if caught unaware. In this way, he seemed to offer a glimpse into a private, feminine world.

— Exhibition label, The Thrill of the Chase: Drawings from the Harry B. and Bessie K. Braude Memorial Collection, March 15–June 15, 2013, Galleries 124–127.

Interpretive Resources

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