Seated Woman Drying Her Left Hip
45.5 x 47.3 x 27.5 cm
The Sam Spiegel Collection bequeathed to American Friends of the Israel Museum
Accession number: B97.0549
Degas created a large number of sculptures, mainly in wax and clay, but this part of his oeuvre remained to a great extent a private preoccupation. His Little Dancer, Fourteen Years Old was the only sculpture that was exhibited (1881) during the artist’s lifetime. While he frequently referred to his desire to have his sculptures cast, Degas permitted only a very few pieces to be cast in plaster while he was alive. Upon his death, some 150 sculptures were found in his studio. Of these, seventy-three were selected, including Seated Woman, Drying Her Left Hip, and cast by A.A. Hebrard under the direction of his master founder, Albino Palazzolo. Paul-Albert Batholomé, a sculptor and longtime friend of Degas, prepared the sculptures for casting. In order to preserve the original waxes, a special technique was devised which involved a double mold-making process. The series was completed before 1921, when it was first exhibited in Paris.
Degas turned to modeling in wax, as he had to pastels and prints, in his search for less restrictive media in which he could experiment with new ideas. The malleability of wax allowed him the flexibility he required to capture the fleeting nuances of bodily movements, an objective that took precedence in his sculpture. The figure in Seated Woman Drying Her Left Hip is a fine example of the high degree of success he achieved in this regard. Unlike the graceful, passive classical representations to which the nineteenth century was accustomed, Degas’s women at their toilette are usually captured in unconventional poses, twisting or bending awkwardly. Our Woman is engaged in an activity that clearly requires effort. The divergent directions of her splayed calves, the opposition of her bent elbow and her lowered reaching arm, and the strain in her tightly braced knees, convey tension and dynamic force. The strong diagonal of the raised arm is continued by the head, which juts out boldly into space. This is countered by the contrasting direction of the torso. The push-and-pull of the figures’ actions results in a continuous flow of space around the sculpture. Only the bulky armchair in which she sits stabilizes the figure’s precarious movement.
In Degas’s mature years, the subject of women washing permeated the various media he employed to such an extent that it could be termed obsessive. These women are urban, anonymous, and represented in a generalized fashion. Despite their nudity, erotic implications are underplayed.