Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Le Bain (The Bath)

Artist: Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas 1834 - 1917

Title: Le Bain (The Bath)

Date: 1890

Medium: oil on canvas

Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, USA

EMu user since 2001

Made without regard for the sensibilities of the public, the critics or the market, Degas's late paintings are among the most enigmatic and challenging works of the nineteenth century. The Bath, one of many views of bathing nudes executed after 1885, is unusually daring in its experimentation with form, colour and technique. The essential elements of the composition - nude, tub, bed, curtain - are readily apparent. However, Degas's juxtaposition of the large bed and the comparatively small figure creates a disturbingly irrational space. Close examination of the figure reveals no face, an omission that may represent a deliberate attack on representation and the expectations of the viewer.

Degas's use of colour further complicates our understanding of the scene. The sumptuous orange of the bed curtain also underlies the background of the tub, encouraging the viewer to see a continuous plane of colour instead of a curtain and a distant wall. The blue dabs of paint seem to float upon the orange, creating a magically vibrant surface that defies identification as either wallpaper or tiling.

Degas's painting technique also defies tradition and convention. He applied the rich blue dots in the left background with his fingers or thumb, and he defined the bedclothes with thin black lines drawn without regard for the boundaries of the underlying white paint. In every respect, Degas seems to be testing the limits of representation; at every turn, this intimate scene threatens to dissolve into abstract layers of paint.

Acquired through the generosity of Mrs. Alan M. Scaife.