Degas’ ‘The Tub’, at the Hill-Stead Museum in Connecticut, is one of his finest pastels

This pastel by Edgar Degas in the collection of Museum Hill-Stead, a little-known museum in Farmington, Conn., is one of my favorites in any American collection. At the most basic level, it’s just a miracle for me that one person would reciprocate another by creating something like this.

What is this?” “The tub,” as it was called, was a lot of color on a large, 27 ½ square inch piece of gray-blue paper. brick-colored lines, superimposed on sunken lines of other colors in the opposite direction.. Because chalk stains on the dry side – more pigmented than average – jade-like colors also have a distinctive texture. has strong tactile ability, like woven fabric.

Degas’ chosen vantage point puts us in an unusual position, both near and slightly above the model. Perspective directs the space towards the viewer, allowing us to see more of the red, yellow, blue, and green of the floor. Those pops of color bring out similar shades in the model’s hair and the light reflected off her skin, reinforcing the unity of the photo, the closeness of the scene.

Meanwhile, the model’s body has an ungainly, almost bizarre shape – full of lumps and odd angles. Her pose is in stark contrast to the decorative ideas prevailing in art in the mid-1880s, yet utterly believable and familiar. (We wash, dry, dress, and undress every day. This is what we look like.)

Degas sometimes described as a erroneous inference – I have often noticed that, by male critics. It always amazes me because most of the women I know, including artists and art historians, love his paintings. They recognize themselves in them – that’s part of it. And of course, they admire all the art in it. (Degas, nothing around it, is a great artist.)

For critics who find his work lacks logic, the key point is often Degas admitting that he wants to show “man is preoccupied with himself, like a cat licking himself”. Similarly, he told the painter Pierre-Georges Jeanniot: “Perhaps I have too often seen women as animals.”

In both cases, Degas alludes to images of women in his bathroom – of which “The Tub” is one of the best. As always, context matters. After the first quote, he went on to say that he wanted to stay away from poses that “contempt the audience.” The women in those images are “honest” and “don’t care about anything but their profession,” he said.

After the second sentence, he said: “Women can never forgive me; they hate me, they feel that I am disarming them. I show them without their restraints, in a state where the animals are cleaning themselves. “

All of Degas’ ironic, mental and emotional intelligence is expressed in these verses. It would be naive to take them too literally; it is even more naive to consider them confession or remorse. But as strange – almost depraved – art critics would consider Degas’s attempt to revolutionize the tradition of female nudity – by drawing it out of the imaginary poverty of pornography. Soft, salon-ready, smooth skin and back into the realm of reality – as proof of wrongdoing.

we to be animals. When you think about all the other shapes we could have made, it’s amazing how much we share with cows, cats, dogs, pigs and koalas: not only two eyes and a nose, but also mouth, teeth, tongue, ears, heart, lungs, hormones, brain, warm blood, skin, genitals, nipples, spine and intestines.

Also: intelligence, vision, feeling, emotion, instinct.

Also: mortality rate.

Humans have long used derogatory language and philosophical assertions to try to establish our fundamental separation from other animals. And, yes, men have used such language to try to establish the inferiority of women. But in our hearts, we know the whole effort is a lie – a lie that leads to heartache and environmental disaster, and shows no sign of cruelty. It’s good news that as art reminds us of all that we share with other animals, it makes no sense to pretend otherwise.

Great work, focus

A series of art critic Sebastian Smee’s favorites in permanent collections across the United States. “They are the things that move me. Part of the fun is trying to figure out why. ”

Photo editing and research by Kelsey Ables. Designed and Developed by Junne Alcantara. | Degas’ ‘The Tub’, at the Hill-Stead Museum in Connecticut, is one of his finest pastels


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