Edgar Degas by N. V. Brodskaia

By N. V. Brodskaia

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Even Joris Karl Huysmans, who greatly admired Degas’ work, took this view, claiming that Degas had ‘in the face of his own century flung the grossest insult by overthrowing woman, the idol who has always been so gently treated, whom he degrades by showing her naked in the bathtub and in the humiliating dispositions of her private toilet’. ’. Far from disdaining flesh, many of these Toilettes express a powerful if sublimated eroticism. Both colour and line become increasingly charged with sensuality as the series progresses.

Qxp 26-Dec-11 4:37 PM Page 59 To Henri Rouart Paris 8 Aug. 1873 You could not do better, my dear friend, than to sing of the countryside. If your unusual correspondent has not quite burnt down the Opera he has at least rented two rooms ... at Croissy. He is going to go there once he has secured his rest and he will do his nature cure just like any strolling player. He is considering walking to Rouen, along the banks of the Seine, of boarding pinnaces or a train if it happens to pass. So I rather fancy myself a stick in one hand but no parasol, studying values, the curves in the road, on little hills, and above all in the evenings, the hour for soup and of great sleepiness in sheets that are comparatively white.

By contrast, it is the black-clad women of Degas’ portraits with their rigid body language who seem repressed and oppressed. The good-humoured and warm-hearted behaviour of the women in the brothel prints anticipates the mood of Guy de Maupassant’s famous short story The House of Madame Tellier, published in 1881, in which the prostitutes lavish their warmth and affection on a young girl taking her first communion. ’ Among the most delightful of the prints is The Name Day of the Madame, which Degas later reworked in pastel.

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