In 1855, the twenty-year-old Degas visited the acclaimed Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who was seventy-four at the time, to report that a family friend had agreed to lend a painting of a nude by Ingres to an exhibition. At this meeting the elder artist encouraged his young admirer to draw constantly, from memory as well as from direct observation. Taking the advice to heart, Degas throughout his career championed drawings on a par with paintings.
Although Degas seldom dated or exhibited works after the last Impressionist group show of 1886, this drawing of a nude’s back is among many closely related works generally dated to the mid-1890s, when the artist’s longtime colleagues, including Renoir, Cézanne, and Monet, were all producing variations on single pictorial themes. Degas’s procedure was to make a drawing of the model in charcoal, then to lay a sheet of tracing paper over this in order to make duplicates. In the case of some images, such as After the Bath, Woman Drying Her Hair, he repeated the process many times, creating a sequence of sheets with identical-size figures on them, the sheets themselves varying in size, format, and setting details.