Saturday, February 09, 2008

Degas' Bathing Nudes at the Met

I saw the pastel Nudes only on my second visit to the reopened galleries of late nineteenth and early twentieth century paintings. They are beautiful. They are not luminous. They are not monumental. They are not sensual. They are not sacred. They are themselves, women caught up with themselves, doing the most ordinary things like wiping your back dry with a towel, or wiping your feet propped against the bathtub, or, in the painting below, bathing in a shallow tub. And they are studies of the female back. They prove, without the rigidity of a proof, that the human back is worth our attention as much as the human front.

Woman Bathing in a Shallow Tub, 1885
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917)
Charcoal and pastel on light green wove paper, now discolored to warm gray,
laid down on silk bolting; 32 x 22 1/8 in. (81.3 x 56.2 cm)
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.41)

The Met note: "When Degas exhibited his "suite of nudes," which included this pastel, at the eighth and last Impressionist exhibition in 1886, critics viciously attacked the ungainly poses of his bathers. After the exhibition, Degas gave the picture to Mary Cassatt in exchange for her Girl Arranging Her Hair (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)."

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