Edgar Degas After the Bath Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1833 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Art  (general)

¶ … Edgar Degas' After the Bath with respect to his stylistic choices. This paper will discuss the subject matter and analyze formal elements such as composition, line, texture, mass and volume.

How did Degas use color and light in this painting? How did he organize design principles of balance, rhythm and proportion? Is this painting telling a story or just simply a snippet into the reality of the subject like a photograph? What symbolism and imagery is evident in the painting? How effectively did the artist use the materials and formal elements to create a particular impression or illustrate a theme? Was Degas successful and what did this painting mean to him?

Personal Choice and Emotional Response chose a work by Degas because I believe that for his time, he was an innovative thinker. Many art experts place his work amongst that of the Impressionists. Like some, I believe he was at the tail end of this movement, focused less on light and subdued choice of color and focused more on his subject's movement. This is not to say that he did not use light and color to convey his message. In fact Anthea Callen writes: "Degas' culture made it inevitable that he represent masculine desire and anxieties about masculine identity evoked by such desire through an apparently detached masculine scrutiny of the female body" (6). It is because of his blatant obsessions that such passion can be revealed to the viewer. His intensity is apparent throughout his depth of work and his critical way of pushing the envelope reflects his pursuit of "the great Neoclassicist's linear perfection" (Hartt, 850). According to the art historian Hartt, "Degas defined the goal of his own style succinctly as 'bewitching the truth'" (851).

Still I believe he can be categorized as a late Impressionist because of his literal interpretation of the movement. I believe he was very analytical in his choices to follow and attempt "to accurately and objectively record visual reality in terms of transient effects of light and color" (Pioch, par. 1). In fact this attention to detail brought about the ushering in of other bold artists of the time like Paul Gaugin and George Seurat. I think the reason many art historians do not consider Degas a true Impressionist is his apparent dislike or nature and his use of a studio for working (Edgar Degas, par. 3).

Degas used many types of materials charcoal to oils and chalk-like pastels. After the Bath is comprised of pastels on paper. I picked this particular work because it is a solid representation of Degas' style and genius. Still it is not as whimsical as some of his other works both in color choice and subject. Yet, it evokes many emotions from the viewer. Unadulterated, pure lust is the first emotional, gut reaction to this artwork. One cannot resist the urge to keep looking at it like some sick peeping tom. With lust comes an element of sheer surprise of acknowledging her nudity and then next possible emotion is embarrassment over feeling like one has interrupted a very private moment and ritual. Still it is the not knowing or not being able to see her face that makes looking at this artwork thrilling, sexual and gratifying. By not making eye contact with the subject, not only creates an air of mystery but also makes it almost acceptable to enjoy the sight of her in this moment of simply drying off with a towel.

The Subject Matter

The subject matter of this artwork is a young naked woman in the process of drying off after a bath. The subject is possibly in her bedroom or the bedroom of her lover. The surroundings are decorated in the typical style of the time and what is particularly noticeable is a style wallpaper signifying that of an upper class household. The pretty design of roses only emphasizes her femininity and this makes the view all the more alluring and pleasurable. This work is not a portrait, not in the classical sense. Really it is more of a photograph, only painted. It displays a realism that can only be compared with a photo. The ironic thing is that her action creates a stillness, a moment of rapture. It is as if, the viewer has stolen a glimpse of pure beauty. This idea is also ironic in the sense that her nudity from a social standpoint for some could create thoughts of obscenity and disgust. How can something so beautiful be also so dirty at the same time? Could this possibly be Degas' message to the viewer? Or was he simply just painting the subject for art's sake and his own amusement? I believe he was saying that women are beautiful all the time even after a bath. The voyeuristic aspect is only an added guilty pleasure. Maybe he was also commenting that such moments are meant only for certain eyes, hence, the backdrop of a bedroom.

The subject brings up a contradiction of thoughts. It does, however, exhibit aspects of imagery and symbolism for the viewer. In her nude state, she symbolizes purity. Her ritual of drying off after a bath reminds the viewer she is clean and therefore pure as the Holy Mary. The use of a light color, close to white brings up images of the maiden. She may be touching her body with the action of drying herself but this represents her as untouched, unattainable and every man's fantasy. As a woman she symbolizes the potential of bearing fruit. Her nudity only emphasizes her sexuality as a woman. She is the forbidden fruit. The surroundings only continue this theme. By painting the wallpaper with roses in full bloom only accents more her lush, ripe body. The red rose also represents in literary circles the idea of true love. In literature, true love remains pure and unattainable. In other words, the red rose symbolizes fruit but also in juxtaposition with the subject, reminds the viewer she is also in full bloom.

One can only speculate what the subject meant to Degas the artist. I believe to Degas, the subject represents all that a woman can be; lush, vital and providing life, not only to fruit but also to everyone she touches. Degas has also made her special and by making her anonymous, without a face, he protects her and keeps her for himself. Such is the essence of pure and true love. A woman is only nude for one man and that man should cherish her forever.

Formal Elements

The formal elements of composition, line, texture, mass and volume emphasizes Degas' message. By using colors that close to each other, this creates a mellow texture to the effect of the composition. There are no bold colors used because the subject matter provides enough stimulation. By putting the subject slightly in the foreground not only symbolizes putting purity on a pedestal (another element of pure love) but also creates a new line of vision. The composition is equally distributed with mass and volume. The subject and her surroundings do not seem unbalanced or unrealistic to the viewer. By using texture and color, the painting takes on a reality because of how the mass and volume are distributed throughout. Degas' use of light and shadow accents the painting's boundaries creating more mystery. By using shadows on her right side, he creates a fluid movement even in the stillness of the snapshot. Shadow also adds to the drama of the message. Yes, she is pure but she is also nude and therefore in some eyes, soiled to the world.

Design Principles

The focal point of this composition is the subject's nude beauty. More specifically the eye gravitates toward that of the towel she is holding at her hip. There is a balance to the painting in the form of a triangle. Her body is positioned in a way that makes her right knee symmetrical with her left breast and then that left breast symmetrical with that of her crossed feet. It is not perfectly equal triangle but the invisible lines make the composition smooth and balanced. The viewer also gets a feel that gravity will not pull her forward but that the weight of her action remains in the towel. This creates, even in its still reality, a sense of fluidity. This contributes to the painting's depth of not only motion happening in her body but also texture in the wallpaper. The subject is equally proportioned. Her upper body does not feel heavier than her bottom. The chair is equally proportionate to the surrounding wallpaper. This continues to create the allusion of a realistic situation for the subject. This makes the art dynamic in the sense that the viewer feels the movement of the towel and wonders if there were to be another snapshot of the subject, what her next movement would be. Would she move away and dress for the day or sit back and enjoy herself? This… [END OF PREVIEW]

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