Young Woman in Blue

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)

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This unusual perspective on a woman with arms crossed behind her back is typical of the unorthodox vantage points favored by Degas. His subject is believed to be an impatient young saleswoman whom he observed in a Parisian hat shop. The ingenious articulation of her shoulders and arms demonstrates his unerring draftsmanship, while the lustrous blue of the woman's bodice reflects the artist's deft use of pastel.

Though Degas often exhibited with the Impressionists and shared their interest in spontaneity, he was not attracted to their practice of rapid painting out of doors.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Seen from above and behind, a straitlaced saleswoman in a startlingly blue jacket sits with her arms impatiently crossed and her nose impudently poked in the air, unmindful of clients who lose themselves in the shadows of a milliner's shop. Although Edgar Degas's drawing looks like a candid snapshot of an anecdotal moment of daily life in Paris, it represents a carefully calculated effect.

The painter Mary Cassatt, Degas's friend and protégée, reported that Degas sometimes accompanied her to the dressmaker's or the milliner's. Back in his studio, he might ask her to reprise the customer's role, if the pose he desired to draw was a particularly difficult one. Her testimony illuminates the apparent contradiction between Degas's affiliation with the Impressionists-devotees of outdoor painting and spontaneous brushwork-and his own statement "No art is less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and the study of the great masters." His constant observation of the passing crowd enabled him to grasp and convey the attitude of a snippy clerk. His constant practice of drawing allowed him to describe that attitude with a single, essential outline and a dash of colored chalk.

M. Degas, who ranks himself with the Impressionists, though he is only attached to them by the coattails, is trying to revive [the 18th-century pastel] by rejuvenating it.
-Art critic Louis Gonse, 1877

Artist's Estate Sale, part 2, in December 1918. {1} Barthélémy, Paris, France. {2} Mary Quinn Sullivan [1877-1939], New York, New York via an intermediary, Madame le Garrec; {3} purchased by the John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art, in 1938.

{1} Galerie Georges Petit, Tableaux, pastels et dessins par Edgar Degas et provenant de son atelier, 2e vente, 11-13 December 1918, no. 163.
{2} Given in Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1947-48, vol. 3, no. 782 (ill.) Lemoine did not know that this pastel was already in the United States when his catalogue raisonné was published.
{3} Indianapolis native, and New York City resident, Mary Quinn Sullivan noted that this Degas pastel was "purchased at the Vente Degas by a collector from whom I bought it directly through Madame le Garrec."”She was the daughter of Edmond Sagot, the print dealer. See letter from Sullivan to Wilbur Peat, dated 13 May 1938, in IMA Historical File (38.12).

Object Information

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
creation date
about 1884
pastel over charcoal on buff paper
18 x 12 in. (image)
25-1/4 x 18-1/2 in. (sheet)
mark descriptions
Stamped in vermilian ink, lower left: Degas
accession number
credit line
Delavan Smith Fund
Public Domain
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

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