Add your own finishing touch to your Degas re-creation with a choice of three luxury Larson-Juhl frames:
Finish: Dark Wood - Width: 4" - Height: 2 3/16"
Finish: Dark Wood - Width: 3" - Height: 1.125"
Finish: Black - Width: 2.75" - Height: 1"
The woman depicted was likely Berthe, the wife of Degas’ friend Charles Jeantaud. Degas portrayed her on at least two other occasions, in paintings that would also have appeared daringly modern to the contemporary viewer. This is the most intriguing of the three pictures, with its disconcerting mixture of levels of finish, and apparently unflinching depiction of appearance and character. While the painting has many of the trappings of a portrait, it was likely not commissioned by Berthe – instead she sat for the eccentric Degas perhaps at his request – certainly he afterwards kept the painting.
She was painted over an abandoned image of a standing female figure – perhaps a nursemaid or a domestic servant; the figure’s hand, cuff and dark sleeve can still be seen on Berthe’s chest, and the green tone visible in many areas is that of the original background. Degas scraped this painting down with a palette knife, but did not apply a paint layer to cover the first painting and instead worked directly over it.
While the rough finish and gestural brushwork would suggest rapid and inspired work, Degas himself claimed to know nothing of spontaneity, and instead prized reflection and study. Among the avant-garde artists of his generation, he had the most classical training and solid technical underpinnings. While this work is experimental, and would have looked breathtakingly progressive to his viewers, everything about it is cleverly considered. By leaving some areas unresolved and pushing others to further levels of finish, he forces us to ask fundamental questions about the way the external world can be represented, and where reality resides. The calculated technical extravagance of this painting shows the painter to be a masterful manipulator of vision, and a critical influence for subsequent generations of artists.