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Woman Drying Her Hair (Femme s'essuyant les cheveux)

Edgar Degas

European Art

Edgar Degas made a series of color pastels in the late 1880s and 1890s depicting nude women bathers. He approached this traditional motif in a way considered very unconventional at the time. Rather than posing his models, he set up basins in his studio and asked them to bathe as they would normally so that he could observe their movements from close and unexpected vantage points. When he famously described these views as being “as if you looked through the keyhole,” he meant that the women he portrayed were without artifice, but today it is difficult not to see such “keyhole” images as voyeuristic or predatory. Whether these pastels reflect an objectifying male gaze—or resist it, with the women’s awkward poses and inward focus—has been the subject of much scholarly debate.

Here, Degas created a highly abstracted surface with an array of pastel strokes, thickly layered in some areas and lightly smudged in others. The woman’s back is densely hatched, with a blue shadow in the lower part. This dynamic use of a very tactile medium calls attention to the picture’s surface, as do the strips of paper added at top and bottom. Working across these visible seams, Degas further amplified the tension between abstraction and naturalism.

Titus Kaphar: He’s such a creep. I’m sorry. I’m just saying. You were a creep. . . .I’m going to say it just how I want to say it. . . . I can’t believe we’re still aestheticizing these images that are not OK. They’re just not OK. This is the most banal of them.
MEDIUM Pastel and charcoal on translucent papers
  • Place Made: France
  • DATES ca. 1889
    DIMENSIONS 33 1/8 × 41 1/2 in. (84.1 × 105.4 cm) frame: 38 × 47 × 5 in. (96.5 × 119.4 × 12.7 cm)  (show scale)
    MARKINGS Stamped lower right: "Degas" (Lugt 658)
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    CREDIT LINE Museum Collection Fund
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Edgar Degas (Paris, France, 1834–1917, Paris, France). Woman Drying Her Hair (Femme s'essuyant les cheveux), ca. 1889. Pastel and charcoal on translucent papers, 33 1/8 × 41 1/2 in. (84.1 × 105.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum Collection Fund, 21.113 (Photo: , 21.113_PS9.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 21.113_PS9.jpg., 2019
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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