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Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Combing the Hair ('La Coiffure')

Key facts
Full title Combing the Hair ('La Coiffure')
Artist Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas
Artist dates 1834 - 1917
Date made about 1896
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 114.3 × 146.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bought (Knapping Fund), 1937
Inventory number NG4865
Location Room 41
Collection Main Collection
Combing the Hair ('La Coiffure')
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

Women combing their hair, or having it combed, often appear in Degas’s work, and this painting is one of his boldest treatments of the subject. A maid, wearing her servant’s uniform, combs the hair of her seated mistress, who is not yet fully dressed. Pulled back by the force of the strokes, the mistress raises her right hand to her head as if to steady herself or hold her hair in place.

The composition is sketched in with bold sweeps of the brush, and Degas mainly limits the colours to variations of a fiery orange-red painted over a creamy white ground, which is still visible on the left of the canvas. Some areas are more defined than others – the objects on the table, for example, look unfinished. Degas probably planned to work further on the painting, but it was never completed and remained in his studio. After his death, it was bought by Henri Matisse.

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