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Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Peasant Girls bathing in the Sea at Dusk

Key facts
Full title Peasant Girls bathing in the Sea at Dusk
Artist Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas
Artist dates 1834 - 1917
Date made about 1875-76
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 65 × 81 cm
Inscription summary signed
Acquisition credit On loan from a private collection
Inventory number L1280
Location Sunley Room
Image copyright On loan from a private collection
Collection Main Collection
Peasant Girls bathing in the Sea at Dusk
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

While Degas sketched seascapes on the coast of Normandy in summer 1869, this unfinished, heavily reworked painting combining elements from those earlier studies probably was executed several years later in the artist’s studio in Paris. Bold in composition and unusual in technique, it reveals Degas’s willingness to experiment.

The girl’s dark silhouettes cut across the picture surface, their naked bodies assailed by invigorating waves. Clutching hands like a chain of paper dolls, they enter the sea in a jerky yet choreographic movement, facing the setting sun. With its unconventional appearance, shifts in scale and broad treatment the picture counts among Degas’s most progressive works of the mid-1870s. The painting appears in the catalogues of the second (1876) and third (1877) Impressionist Exhibitions in Paris but as no critic in either year comments on what would have been one of the most daring works on view, at the last minute the artist may have chosen not to submit it. It remained with him for the rest of his life.

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