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Degas exhibited only one sculpture during his lifetime, the wax _Little Dancer Aged Fourteen_, at the Sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881 (that statuette is now in the National Gallery of Art). Many critics reacted with shock to its subject, which they found harshly realistic and even ugly, and to its unconventional incorporation of actual, rather than sculpturally imitated, fabric and hair.


In his other sculptures, not meant for exhibition, Degas worked less in pursuit of perfect forms than in restless exploration of movement and composition. Using soft, pliable materials, he built up his figures on makeshift armatures reinforced with brush handles, matches, or whatever else was at hand. The waxes, whose lumpish surfaces leave his labor visible, have a translucent character that conveys an astonishing sense of life.


Like the Little Dancer, The Tub employs actual as well as represented materials. The figure may be wax, the water plaster, but they occupy a real lead basin resting on a wooden base covered with plaster-soaked rags. In a bird's-eye view, the circular tub and square base create a foil for the convoluted twists of the figure. The result is an intriguing interplay of two-dimensional geometric shapes and three-dimensional natural forms.

Details

  • Title: The Tub
  • Creator: Edgar Degas
  • Date Created: c. 1889
  • Physical Dimensions: overall without base: 22.5 x 42.3 x 47.2 cm (8 7/8 x 16 5/8 x 18 9/16 in.) height (of figure): 16.9 cm (6 5/8 in.)
  • Provenance: The artist [1834-1917]; his heirs;[1] Adrien-Aurélien Hébrard [1865-1937], Paris;[2] his daughter, Nelly Hébrard [1904-1985], Paris;[3] consigned 1955 to (M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., New York); purchased May 1956 by Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia; gift 1985 to NGA. [1] The artist's heirs were René De Gas, his last surviving brother, who lived in Paris, and the four (of seven) surviving children of his sister Marguerite, who had died in Argentina in 1895. (His other deceased sister Thérèse left no descendants.) Marguerite's children were: Jeanne Fevre, unmarried and acting on both her own behalf and as the representative of her sister, Madeleine Marie Pauline Fevre, a Carmelite nun; Henri Jean Auguste Marie Fevre, an industrialist who lived in Marseille; and Gabriel Edgar Eugène Fevre, an agent in Montevideo, Uruguay. See Anne Pingeot and Frank Horvat, _Degas sculptures_, Paris, 1991, and Anne Pingeot, "The casting of Degas' sculptures: Completing the story," _Apollo_ (August 1995): 60-63. [2] On 13 May 1918 a contract was signed between the artist's heirs and the Hébrard foundry authorizing the reproduction of Degas' sculptures in bronze. Of the approximately 150 statuettes found in the artist's studio after his death, 74 figures were ultimately cast in bronze. The contract stipulated that two complete sets were to be cast, one for the heirs and one for the foundry, and authorized a limit of twenty casts of each figure to be offered for sale. The casting process took at least thirteen years, from 1919 to 1932, and according to the contract, the original figures became the property of the foundry. See Sara Campbell, "Degas' bronzes: Introduction," _Apollo_ (August 1995): 6-10. [3] The article by Anne Pingeot referenced in note 1 provides details of the role of Hébrard's daughter in the history of the foundry, and its work in casting the bronzes.
  • Medium: pigmented beeswax, plastiline, plaster, lead, wood, cloth, cork, wire, on wooden base

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