Though Edgar Degas initially wanted to be a history painter, he transitioned to painting scenes culled from modern life. He was particularly influenced by Édouard Manet, whom he knew well, and he participated in most of the impressionist exhibitions of the 1870s and 1880s. The aura of scandal surrounding these exhibitions was not to his liking, however, and he preferred to be called a realist; moreover, Degas often painted interior scenes, in contrast to the impressionists and their penchant for plein-air painting. One of his primary concerns was depicting movement. His subjects included horse racing, dancers, artists, and female nudes, and he was also a skilled portrait artist. Degas experimented with a variety of media and excelled in the different techniques.
This painting depicts a recurring motif from the artist’s later years: a woman’s morning toilette. The cropped composition and the limited range of colours, here with the warm, reddish hues contrasting with the whites and yellows, are also characteristic of Degas during this period. The same applies to the influence from photography and Japanese prints. The scene is intimate, with the woman sitting on the edge of an unmade bed in what looks like a nightgown, while another woman helps her arrange her long, red hair. The figures are simplified, with erased contours, and the execution seems almost sculptural. The texture is rough, with evident traces of the brushwork. Even though many of his paintings appear to be momentary snapshots, Degas himself contended that his art was far from spontaneous. Everything he painted was informed by his own contemplation and his studies of the great masters.
Text: Marianne Yvenes
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0