About This Artwork

Edgar Degas
French, 1834-1917

Woman at Her Toilette, 1900/05

Pastel on tracing paper
750 x 725 mm
Signed lower left, in red: "Degas"

Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection, 1937.1033

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.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie, "Degas," 1937, cat. 165, pl. 27.

Toledo, Ohio, Toledo Museum of Art, "Paintings by French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists," November 4-December 13, 1937.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Degas in The Art Institute of Chicago," July 19-September 23, 1984, pp. 184-185, cat. 89 (ill.), cat. by Richard R. Brettell and Suzanne Folds McCullagh.

London, National Gallery, "Degas: Beyond Impressionism," May 22-August 26, 1996, pp. 251 and 302, cat. 66 (ill.), cat. by Richard Kendall; traveled to The Art Institute of Chicago, September 28, 1996-January 5, 1997.

The Art Institute of Chicago, "Undressed: The Fashion of Privacy", June 22-September 29, 2013

Publication History

J. B. Manson, Life and Works of Edgar Degas (London, 1927), p. 47.

George Slocombe, "Artist and Misanthrope," Coronet 3 (April 1938), p. 21 (ill.).

P. A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre 3 (Paris, 1946), p. 816-817, no. 1426 (ill.).

Daniel Catton Rich, Edgar Hilaire Germain Degas (New York, 1951), pp. 124-125 (ill.).

Paintings in The Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Picture Collection (Chicago, 1961), pp. 122 and 285 (ill.).

El Mundo de los Museos, The Art Institute of Chicago (Madrid, 1967), p. 57 (ill.).

Alfred Werner, Degas: Pastels (New York, 1968), p. 82, no. 32 (ill.).

William Gaunt, Impressionism: A Visual History (New York, 1970), pp. 188-189, pl. 67.

Sandra Grung, Supplement to Paintings in The Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, 1971), p. 28.

Harold Joachim and Sandra Haller Olsen, French Drawings and Sketchbooks of the Nineteenth Century 2 (Chicago, 1979), pp. 45-46, no. 2G10.

Michael Edward Shapiro, "Three Late Works by Edgar Degas," Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 8 (1982), pp. 12-16 (ill.).

Lois Fichner-Rathus, Understanding Art (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1986), p. 70, fig. 3-7.

Degas, exh. cat. (Paris, 1988), p. 597, fig. 333.

Jean Sutherland Boggs, Degas (Chicago, 1996), pp. 65, 67 (ill. detail), 105 (ill.), and 111, pl. 34.

Joseph Czestochowski and Anne Pingeot, Degas Sculptures: Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes, exh. cat. (Memphis, 2002), pp. 45-46, fig. 11.

George T.M. Shackelford, Xavier Rey, et. al. " Degas and The Nude" (Boston, 2011-2012), pp. 218-219,
fig. 241

Nicholas Wadley, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Drawing (Lawrence King Ltd., 1991), p. 115 (ill.).

Ownership History

Estate of the artist; sold, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, May 6-8, 1918, lot 127. Georges Bernheim, Paris, April 1920 [registrar documentation]. Paul Rosenberg, Paris [Lemoisne 1946]. Martin Ryerson (1856-1932), by November 17, 1920 [invoice]; bequeathed to the Art Institute, 1937.

View mobile website