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The bath

Painting, 1886, 60×83 cm

Description of the artwork «The bath»

Edgar Degas brought vats and basins into his workshop. Models would come here and spend hours going about their business: combing, washing, drying themselves, yawning, dressing and undressing. At first surprised that Degas did not paint anything, but simply observed, over time they got tired of being surprised and stopped noticing the artist. This is what he needed.

At the Eighth Impressionist Exhibition in 1886, when it was the last chance to gather the artists who had once started the whole revolution in one room, Edgar Degas submitted seven pastels. They had a long and deliberately prosaic title, almost clerical or cataloguing (as art critics who systematize artist’s legacy call a pack of some minor sketches and preparatory drawings): “A series of naked women — bathing, washing, drying, combing their hair or sitting at the toilet while being combed.”

Edgar Degas was perhaps the first artist to reconcile nudity and modernity after several centuries of the chaste salon tradition of dressing naked female bodies in floating draperies or surrounding them with symbolic attributes of ancient goddesses. Instead of the justifying Greek togas, soaring cupids, clouds, sea foam and other divine entourage covering the nakedness of their subjects twenty years earlier, Degas handed them washcloths and combs. This is not the defiant and shameless nudity of Olympia by Édouard Manet, this is the most natural, everyday and boring environment in which a woman can find herself undressed.

Degas’s women wash and comb themselves, they do not look into the viewer’s eyes. Moreover, even their faces are often not visible. They awkwardly raise their legs, getting out of the bathroom, unceremoniously bend over and turn their backs and bottoms to us, bunch their wet hair to comb them thoroughly, and dry their legs and back. “Until now, the nude model has always been depicted in poses that involve the presence of spectators,” the artist explained, adding that his task was to create the feeling of peeping through the keyhole.

By the mid-1880s, more differences remained between the founders of the Impressionist movement than points of contact. The exhibition featuring Degas’s bathing women was the last joint. The rebellious artists have matured — each renounced the importance of fleeting impressions in his own way, looking for timeless images, focusing their eyes on something important and allowing classical art to influence themselves. Art critics praised Degas in his search — they said he was the only ardent admirer of Ingres in the Impressionist camp to be able to make another act of reconciliation in his pastel bathhouse series. The bathing women of Degas have finally reconciled Ingres and Delacroix, reconciled line and colour.

Author: Anna Sidelnikova

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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Nude

Style of art: Impressionism

Technique: Pastel

Materials: Cardboard

Date of creation: 1886

Size: 60×83 cm

Artwork in selections: 87 selections