Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Woman Combing Her Hair

Edgar Degas (French, Paris 1834–1917 Paris)
ca. 1888–90
Pastel on light green wove paper, now discolored to warm gray, affixed to original pulpboard mount
24 1/8 x 18 1/8 in. (61.3 x 46 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Nate B. Spingold, 1956
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 817
This is the second of two variants of a composition that Degas created about 1885 (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg). In this version, he used a new technique, applying pastel in so many successive layers that the pigment became burnished and the underlying paper rubbed to such an extent that the fibers were loosened and now project from the surface like many little hairs. Degas also emphasized anti-natural chartreuses and greens in modeling the figure’s pink flesh, perhaps inspired by the play of complementary color contrasts in the work of such younger contemporaries as Seurat or Van Gogh.
Inscription: Signed (lower left): Degas
[Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1891; bought from the artist on February 27, 1891 for Fr 2000; stock no. 838; sold on March 3, 1891 to Gallimard]; Paul Gallimard, Paris (from 1891); Jos Hessel, Paris (1894–at least 1937); private collection, Paris; [Sam Salz, New York, until 1950; sold on April 30, 1950 to Spingold]; Mr. and Mrs. Nate B. Spingold, New York (1950–56; his life interest, 1956–d. 1958; her life interest, 1956–d. 1976)
Paris. Salle de la Renaissance. "Oeuvres des 19e et 20e siècles," January 15–31, 1929, no. 127 (as "Femme se coiffant," lent by Monsieur J. Hessel).

Paris. Palais National des Arts. "Chefs d'œuvre de l'art français," July–September 1937, no. 310 (as "Femme nue se coiffant," lent by M. Jos Hessel, Paris).

Paris. Alfred Daber. "Grands maîtres du XIXe siècle," June 19–July 11, 1947, no. 10 (as "Femme nue assise, de dos, se coiffant").

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Nate and Frances Spingold Collection," March 23–June 19, 1960, unnumbered cat. (as "Nude Combing Her Hair").

Waltham, Mass. Dreitzer Gallery, Spingold Theater, Brandeis University. "Nate B. and Frances Spingold Collection," June 11–16, 1965, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Degas in the Metropolitan," February 26–September 4, 1977, no. 45 (of works on paper).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Degas," September 27, 1988–January 8, 1989, no. 285.

Tristan Bernard. "Jos Hessel." La Renaissance 13 (January 1930), ill. p. 19, as "Femme se coiffant".

Introduction by René Huyghe. Cent trente chefs-d'œuvre de l'art français du moyen age au XXe siècle. Paris, 1937, pl. 118.

Charles Sterling in Chefs d'œuvre de l'art français. Exh. cat., Palais National des Arts. Paris, 1937, p. 155, no. 310.

Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 3, XIX–XX Centuries. New York, 1967, p. 89, ill., as "Nude Combing Her Hair"; call it a very close, less finished version of L849 [see Notes].

Philippe Brame and Theodore Reff. Degas et son oeuvre: A Supplement. New York, 1984, pp. 124–25, no. 115, ill., call it "Femme se coiffant" and date it about 1885.

Gary Tinterow in Degas. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. New York, 1988, pp. 369, 415, 451, 464–65, 468, no. 285, ill. p. 467 (color), calls it "Nude Woman Combing Her Hair" and dates it about 1888–90; discusses it as the last variant among a group of three pictures of a model in the same pose, locating the primary work in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (L848) and the second composition, nearly identical to ours, in a private collection (L849); notes that in ours, Degas used a new technique of applying pastels in successive layers of parallel strokes; remarks upon the "audacious, antinatural chartreuses and greens" used for the fleshtones, mentioning the influence of Seurat in the use of complementary colors; sees in these poses of women's backs Degas's admiration for Ingres's "Valpinçon Bather" (1808; Musée du Louvre, Paris).

Michael Pantazzi in Degas. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. New York, 1988, p. 256, relates the pose to that of the central figure in the earlier composition "Women Combing Their Hair" (about 1875; Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; L376).

Norma Broude. "Edgar Degas and French Feminism, ca. 1880: 'The Young Spartans,' the Brothel Monotypes, and the Bathers Revisited." Art Bulletin 70 (December 1988), p. 655, fig. 12, calls it "Nude Combing Her Hair" and dates it about 1885.

Richard Thomson. "The Degas Exhibition in Ottawa and New York." Burlington Magazine 131 (April 1989), p. 294, disagrees with the date of about 1888–90 in Ref. Tinterow 1988, proposing that this pastel was executed in the mid-1890s "on the grounds of the disembodiment of its marks from the form, the delight in the autonomous sensuality of pastel" and the "dabbed background"; calls the version in a private collection "a typical pastel of the later 1880s".

Jean Sutherland Boggs and Anne Maheux. Degas Pastels. New York, 1992, pp. 116–17, 174, no. 39, ill. (color).

Richard Kendall. Degas, Beyond Impressionism. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 1996, pp. 63, 103, fig. 61, calls it "Nude Combing Her Hair".

Antoine Salomon and Guy Cogeval. Vuillard: The Inexhaustible Glance. Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels. Milan, 2003, vol. 3, p. 1487, under no. XII-67, ill., identify it as the pastel depicted in Vuillard's painting of the Hessel home, "The Small Drawing-Room in Rue de Naples" (about 1933–35; private collection).

George T. M. Shackelford in Degas and the Nude. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston, 2011, p. 137, 226, fig. 145 (color) [French ed., "Degas et le nu," Paris, 2012, pp. 164, 182, 271, fig. 155 (color)], suggests that Degas may have been motivated to make this work by the "salability of 'easier' subjects".

This picture is the last version of three pastels depicting the model in the same pose. The first dates from about 1884–86 (Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; L848) and the second (1886–88; Mr. and Mrs. A. Alfred Taubman, New York; L849) is nearly identical in composition to ours.
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