An exploration of Edgar Degas’s laundress works and their significance within broader debates art, urban life, and women’s work in the nineteenth century
Edgar Degas’s depictions of Parisian laundresses are some of the famed Impressionist’s most revolutionary works. In paintings, drawings, and prints throughout his long career, Degas emphasized the strenuousness of women’s labor and highlighted social-class divides in his idiosyncratic avant-garde style. Laundresses washing, ironing, and carrying heavy baskets of clothing were a highly visible presence within late nineteenth-century Paris, and their job was difficult, dangerous, and poorly paid. Indeed, many laundresses were forced to supplement their income through prostitution. Degas’s portrayals of this harsh and complicated life were included in his most significant exhibitions and were praised by artists and critics of his time as epitomizing modernity. Contextualizing Degas’s laundress works with those of his contemporaries, such as Gustave Caillebotte, Berthe Morisot, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, this volume also looks at examples by painters that Degas influenced and was influenced by, from Honoré Daumier to Pablo Picasso. Richly illustrated and featuring essays by an interdisciplinary group of authors, this study draws on art history, literature, and history to reveal how Degas’s stunning works take part in a more widespread debate concerning the topic of laundresses during the late nineteenth century.
Distributed for the Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art (October 8, 2023–January 14, 2024)
Britany Salsbury is associate curator of prints and drawings at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
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