J. Paul Getty Museum Acquires Degas Masterpiece
May 1, 2001
Los Angeles--The J. Paul Getty Museum has announced the acquisition of After the Bath, painted around 1895 by Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917). Acquired from a private collection, the painting—also known by its French title Le Bain (Femme vue de dos)—is on view in the Museum's 19th-century paintings gallery in the West Pavilion.
"After the Bath is a significant addition to our own collection, and to the extraordinary breadth of Degas holdings in the Los Angeles area, at the Norton Simon Museum and the L.A. County Museum," comments Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and vice president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. "It is a radiantly beautiful and monumental picture from Degas' most mature phase, which until now has not been represented in local institutions, and points the way toward 20th-century explorations of color and form."
Measuring 25 5/8 by 31 7/8 inches, the oil painting depicts a nude woman, viewed from behind, reclining on her right side in front of a bathtub. Her body is elevated, perhaps on a divan, as a maid leans toward her, hands clasped around a thick mane of bright red hair. The woman raises her left leg awkwardly on the edge of the tub, left hand bracing left thigh and elbow akimbo.
"As a Post-Impressionist masterpiece from the 1890s, the painting is an important complement to our recent acquisition, Portrait of an Italian Woman by Paul Cézanne," says Scott Schaefer, curator of paintings. "The late 19th-century collection tends to be dominated by landscapes, still-lifes, and portraits. With After the Bath, Getty visitors can see Degas' transformation of one of the archetypes of art history—the female nude—into a thoroughly modern idiom."
From the 1880s until the end of his life, Degas turned to the time-honored subject of the female nude in both oil and pastel. But rather than arranging them in classical or biblical narratives, Degas chose to depict contemporary, anonymous women involved in everyday, private activities like washing, drying, or combing their hair. Critics both of Degas' time and today struggle to come to terms with the frequently awkward and inelegant poses of his subjects and ambiguity about the social and economic class of the women.
After the Bath exemplifies Degas' groundbreaking, cross-fertilizing experimentation in various media. "Its seductively tactile surface, created by the artist's application of paint directly to the canvas—sometimes even using his fingers to blend the colors—describes three-dimensional space and figures," explains Schaefer. "After the Bath is a summary of Degas' experimentation in pastel, drawing, sculpture, and oil painting during his most intense and prolific final years."
Infrequently exhibited, the painting was last publicly displayed in a 1995 exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London.
After the Bath joins a number of other works by Degas in the Getty Museum collection. In 1983, the Getty acquired with the Norton Simon Museum Degas' Waiting, a pastel masterpiece of the early 1880s. The two museums alternate displaying the drawing in their respective sites every two years; Waiting is currently on view at the Norton Simon and will return to the Getty at the end of this year. The Getty's paintings collection also includes Degas' Self-Portrait (about 1857-1858), an oil painting of the young Degas casually dressed and informally posed.
Other works by Degas in the Getty collections include an album of pencil sketches (1877) made for his friend Luodvic Halévy, a writer of opera librettos and popular romances; and six photographs, added to the collection over the last several years. Two photographs are of particular relevance to After the Bath as they represent Degas' exploration of the nude in yet another medium: After the Bath, Woman Drying her Back (1896) and Nude Putting on Stockings (1895). The Museum featured a major exhibition of Degas' photographic achievements in Edgar Degas, Photographer in 1999.
About the Artist: Edgar Degas
Born into a cultured banking family in 1834, Degas received a classical education at Louis-le-Grand, the foremost secondary school in Paris. In 1855, he abandoned the study of law and began his training as an artist. From 1856 until 1859 he lived in Italy, educating himself as an artist and paying particular attention to the drawing style of J.A.D. Ingres.
In the late 1860s Degas began to move in more avant-garde circles. Eventually, with friends Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, he co-founded the group of artists known as the Impressionists; some perceived him as its leader. Degas exhibited with the group at seven of the eight Impressionist exhibitions from 1874 to 1886. While he is typically associated with the Impressionist movement, Degas disavowed that categorization. His style and subject matter were in fact very different from the plein-air landscapes of Monet and Renoir. Retaining his interest in line and drawing, he focused primarily on urban, figural subjects; those with which he is most closely identified include racecourses, cafes, laundresses, milliners, and the ballet.
Degas used two subjects—the dancer and the bather—from the 1890s until the end of his career as the vehicle in his exploration of color and form in a variety of media (at times literally overlapping in a single work): pastel, oil, charcoal, monotypes, and etchings. "His images became less anecdotal, progressively more monumental, and ultimately powerfully influential on the young artists of the early 20th century," comments Scott Schaefer, J. Paul Getty Museum curator of paintings. Renoir once said, "If Degas had died at 50, he would have been remembered as an excellent painter, no more: it is after his 50th year that his work broadens out and that he really becomes Degas."
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