Edgar Degas - Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I New York Tuesday, November 14, 2023 | Phillips
  • “What we may see in these works is the unforgettable veracity of these types, captured with a deep-seated and ample draftsmanship, with a lucid and controlled passion.”
    —J.K. Huysmans
    A quintessential painter of modern life, whose scenes of the café concert, laundries, and days at the races represent some of the defining themes and stylistic approaches associated with Impressionism, it was the human figure, and more specifically the female nude, that preoccupied Edgar Degas throughout his career. Ranking alongside his iconic depictions of ballerinas, the theme of the woman bathing was an almost obsessive preoccupation of the artist and opened up an infinite range of compositional and stylistic opportunities for him. In the last three decades of his life especially, this motif would come to dominate his output, the intimate studio setting enabling a remarkably close observation of his models. Executed in pastel and charcoal on an impressive scale for the artist, Petit déjeuner après la bain belongs to a small suite of works featuring the same model at her toilette, her maid in attendance. Other examples featuring the nude bather with her attendant are now held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Fondation Beyeler, while the model’s distinctive auburn chignon is clearly recognizable from some of his most iconic depictions of the subject, including the 1886 Le Tub housed in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. 


    [Left] Edgar Degas, Le Tub, 1886. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: Bridgeman Images
    [Right] Edgar Degas, Le petit déjeuner après le bain, 1895-1898. Fondation Beyeler, Basel. Image: HIP / Art Resource, NY 

    Intimate and unguarded, the scene seems spontaneous, the fleeting instant of a moment captured in Degas’ deft charcoal line and flurry of brilliant pastel tones. One arm stretched behind her, rested on the edge of the tin bath from which she has just emerged, the model folds her body forward, toweling her legs as her maid waits with breakfast in hand. A highly dynamic and active composition, Degas nevertheless demonstrates an exceptional compositional control here, his command of shallow pictorial space accentuated by the interplay of vertical line and more softly realized horizontals, the curve of her spine echoed in the gentle bend of her arm and the rounded edges of the armchair and bath. The full force of Degas’ mark-making is in evidence here, his experimental approach to pastel in these later years combining vigorous cross-hatching, rapid, tightly looping marks, and softer passages smudged and polished with his fingers. 

    “I am a colorist with line.”
    —Edgar Degas
    Daringly modern in terms of both their compositional arrangements and subject matter, these late pastels belong to a tradition of representing women at their toilette closely associated with late Impressionism. The subject fascinated fellow artists Mary Cassatt and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and would later find sublime expression in Pierre Bonnard’s depictions of his wife Marthe floating weightlessly in the bathtub. As much as these have come to represent Degas’ pioneering modernity, especially given their proximity to the artist’s interest in emergent photographic technologies, they also draw on a range of art historical references.  


    [Left] Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, La Grande Baigneuse, 1808. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Image: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY 
    [Right] Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Rousse (La toilette), 1889. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY 

    Showing remarkable promise as a young draughtsman, at the age of eighteen Degas became a registered copyist at the Louvre, reproducing skilled renderings of masterpieces by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Eugène Delacroix. Given Degas’ persistent interest in depicting his models as seen from behind, and the special focus that he placed on capturing the exquisite, rounded forms of his model’s backs in particular, he must surely have kept in mind Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ La Grande Baigneuse, 1808, Musée du Louvre, Paris, whose harmonious sense of line and delicately accented highlights are echoed here. Christopher Llyod has placed special emphasis on these early drawn experiments, suggesting that the practice of copying “developed the artist’s visual memory and he continued the practice throughout his life. The absorption and distillation of what he saw in the work of his predecessors and contemporaries, when allied to his own visual acuity and highly individual treatment of subject matter, is the essence of Degas’ style.”i


    For both Degas and Cassatt, the trend for Japonisme that swept Paris in the late 19th century would prove hugely influential in refining their pictorial language, especially in the circulation of popular ukiyo-e woodblock prints. An accomplished printmaker himself, Degas—like many others in his circle—was an enthusiastic collector of these reproductions and, as in his approach to Western Old Masters, in turning to these striking images he successfully “transposed and absorbed them into his own idiom.”ii Alongside the innovative experiments in cropping and framing enabled by photography, the formative influence of ukiyo-e prints—their closely cropped, often asymmetrical compositions characterized by flat fields of color, highly patterned areas, innovative framing devices, and shallow pictorial space—is particularly clear in the pictorial arrangement of Petit déjeuner après la bain.


    [Left] Utamaro Kitagawa, Japan: Two young women at their toilette, late 18th century. Image: Pictures from History / Bridgeman Images
    [Right] Edgar Degas, Après le bain, 1896. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Image: Digital image courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program

    One of some 200 pastels that Degas would produce on the subject of the nude bather—a late body of work that he first publicly exhibited at the eighth and final Impressionist Exhibition of 1886—here the artist combines careful observation with a newly invigorated and imaginative experimentalism, the energy of his drawn line and the relationship it establishes with the resonating pastel shades bringing the work to life. 


    The introduction of a second, standing figure marks a variation to the series. Standing in shadow and fully clothed, she introduces an important counterpoint to the crouching nude, reminiscent of Édouard Manet’s infamous pairing of a nude white woman and her Black maid in Olympia, 1863, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. However, Degas uses light, rather than his models’ race, to mark the differences between his bather and her maid. This primacy of light is a signature Impressionist feature of the present work; the sense of morning sun filtering through an unseen window in Le petit déjeuner après le bain provides “discreet touches of white on the body” of the bather that draw out the contrast between the two women.iii Degas intensifies this effect in the remarkable variation achieved in his application of pastel; taken together, his “‘shivering’ vertical striations, summary contours, some rubbing, and audaciously […] complex interactions of colors coalesce in the formation of a ‘magical and haunting image.’’’iv



    i  Christopher Lloyd, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Drawings, London, 2019, p. 73. 

    ii Richard Kendall, Degas by Himself: Drawings, Prints, Paintings, Writings, London, 2000, p. 149. 

    iii Ronald Pickvance, Degas, exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Martigny, 1993, p. 119. 

    iv Ibid. 

    • Description

      Please see main sale page for guarantee notice https://www.phillips.com/auctions/auction/NY011123

    • Provenance

      Atelier Edgar Degas, Paris
      Vente Atelier Edgar Degas, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1ère vente, May 6–9, 1918, lot 198
      Jacques Seligmann, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
      American Art Galleries, New York, January 27, 1921, lot 58
      Ambroise Vollard, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
      Sir Alfred Chester-Beatty, Dublin (acquired after 1946)
      Arthur Tooth & Sons, London
      Reid & Lefèvre Gallery (Alex Reid & Lefèvre), London
      Sotheby’s, London, April 7, 1976, lot 16
      Mr. & Mrs. Heller, Miami
      Murauchi Art Museum, Tokyo
      Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2001

    • Exhibited

      London, Lefèvre Gallery, Edgar Degas 1834-1917, June 4–July 4, 1970, no. 16, pp. 52-53 (illustrated, p. 53)
      London, The Royal Academy of Arts, Impressionism. Its Masters, its Precursors, and its Influence in Britain, February 9–April 28, 1974, no. 59, pp. 38-39
      Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Van Monet tot Picasso: Meesterwerken op papier 1860 – 1960, November 15, 2002–February 2, 2003
      Tokyo, Bunkamura Museum of Art; Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Riverwalk Gallery; Hiroshima Museum of Art, Toulouse-Lautrec et son Cercle, November 10, 2009–March 22, 2010, no. 74, pp. 117, 188; then travelled as, Yokohama Museum of Art, Edgar Degas, September 18–December 31, 2010, no. 77, pp. 123, 209 (illustrated, p. 123)
      Milwaukee Art Museum; Vienna, Albertina, Impressionism: Pastels, Watercolors, Drawings, October 14, 2011–May 13, 2012, pl. 24, fig. 1, pp. 55-56, 89, 169 (illustrated, p. 89; detail illustrated, p. 56)
      Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Avant-garde: 1870 to the present, The Collection of the Triton Foundation, October 7–January 20, 2013, pp. 15, 64-65, 542-543 (illustrated, pp. 15, 65)
      Essen, Museum Folkwang; Kunsthaus Zurich, Monet, Gauguin, van Gogh... Japanese Inspirations, September 27, 2014–May 10, 2015, no. 19, pp. 158, 352 (illustrated, p. 158)
      Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum; Paris, Musée de Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Les Hollandais à Paris 1789-1914. Van Spaendonck, Scheffer, Jongkind, Maris, Kaemmerer, Breitner, Van Gogh, Van Dongen, Mondrian, October 13, 2017–May 13, 2018, no. 158, p. 172 (illustrated)
      Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum; Saint Louis Art Museum, Millet and Modern Art: From Van Gogh to Dalí, October 4, 2019–May 17, 2020, no. 65, pp. 75, 77, 200 (illustrated, p. 77)

    • Literature

      Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et Son Œuvre, Paris, 1946, no. 1150, pp. 670-671 (illustrated, p. 671)
      Franco Russoli and Fiorella Minervino, L’opera completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, no. 1017, pp. 132, 147 (illustrated, p. 132)
      Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et Son Œuvre, New York and London, 1984, vol. III, no. 1150, pp. 670-671 (illustrated, p. 671)
      Trésors du Musée de São Paulo. De Manet a Picasso, exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Martigny, 1988, p. 76 (illustrated)
      Élisabeth Santacreu, “Millet le modèle, de Van Gogh à Dalí,” Les Journal des Arts, October 30, 2019, online



Le petit déjeuner après le bain

stamped “Degas” lower left
pastel on paper
41 1/8 x 26 7/8 in. (104.5 x 68.3 cm)
Executed circa 1894.

Full Cataloguing

$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for $2,480,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1206

Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I

New York Auction 14 November 2023