This unfinished picture dates to Degas’s early years as an art student in Paris. Rather than using a fresh canvas, he painted the nude on top of another figure study, which is partially visible underneath. The toes and foot of the earlier figure—possibly the same model—may be seen in the lower left corner, just below the male nude’s head, while his bearded face appears in the area of the reclining nude’s foot.
There is evidence that this is a fragment of a once-larger canvas. Local distortions of the canvas weave from the original stretching, cusping, are seen only on the top and left edges. It is likely that the original canvas incorporated a second study, and was subsequently cut in order to isolate this figure. The present canvas is irregularly shaped; a triangular-shaped insert was added when the work was lined, in order to create a rectangular format overall. The diagonal demarcation between the original canvas and the insert roughly parallels the diagonal edge of what appears to be the platform on which the model is lying, suggesting that the cut was made after the artist had finished with the painting. The triangular insert is on a canvas of finer weave and has been grounded with a much more X-ray opaque material; no attempt was made to mask the fact that this insert is not part of the original work.
Visible in the bottom left corner is the shape of a foot, and within the model’s foot at the right edge are traces of a face, both relating to another figure study below the present one. This initial study, apparently of the same model, also nude, is vertical in format, and shows the figure seated, with his head and shoulders at a slight three-quarter-degree angle, his right leg bent up and his left leg extended. The figure can be imaged using the complementary techniques of infrared reflectography and X-radiography (see Additional Images, figs. 1 and 2). The infrared reflectogram shows some of the painted outlines of the initial male nude (including the left arm and the hand, located in the belly of the figure on the surface), and the blocking-in of the contour of the lower figure with broad strokes of dark brown paint. The facial features of the initial figure are also roughly indicated. The initial study was thinly painted, but since lead white was used in the flesh, a fairly strong image of most of the body is evident in the X-radiograph. Neither X-radiography nor infrared reflectography makes clear the lower section comprising the legs, which may have been less developed than the rest of the study. The flesh paint of the foot in the initial figure was left in place to serve as part of the second figure’s face.
[Charlotte Hale 2016]
René de Gas, Paris; Maurice Exsteens, Paris (by 1946–61; consigned to Klipstein and Kornfeld, October 1960; sold to Klipstein and Kornfeld); [Galerie Klipstein and Kornfeld, Bern, 1961–65; sold to Wisselingh]; [E. J. van Wisselingh & Co. Fine Art, Amsterdam, from 1965]; UC San Diego Foundation (until 1976; sale, Sotheby's, Los Angeles, September 20–22, 1976, no. 277, for $11,500 to Ring); Sheldon Ring, Los Angeles (1976–96; sold by his estate on March 28, 1996, through Montgomery Gallery, San Francisco, to Korsant); Philip Korsant, Greenwich, Conn. (1996–2007)
Bern. Klipstein und Kornfeld. "Choix d'une collection privée: Sammlungen G. P. und M. E., Impressionisten, Neoimpressionisten, Spätimpressionisten," October 22–November 30, 1960, no. 5.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Degas and the Nude," October 9, 2011–February 5, 2012, unnumbered cat. (fig. 21).
Paris. Musée d'Orsay. "Degas et le nu," March 12–July 1, 2012, unnumbered cat. (fig. 20).
P[aul]. A[ndré]. Lemoisne. Degas et son œuvre. [reprint 1984]. Paris, [1946–49], pp. 6–7, no. 15, ill., dates it about 1856.
Fiorella Minervino inL'opera completa di Degas. Milan, 1970, p. 89, no. 65, ill.
Gary Tinterow in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2007–2008." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 66 (Fall 2008), p. 37, ill (color), notes that it is one of only a few studies of a male nude by Degas and that it was painted over an earlier study of a nude that was oriented vertically; notes that a similar figure appears in "Scene of War in the Middle Ages" (1865; Musée D'Orsay, Paris) and that the pose also appears in pastels of female bathers in the 1880s and 1890s; compares it to a nude in the foreground of Ingres's "Romulus Victorious over Acron" (1812; École Nationale Supérieur des Beaux-Arts, Paris; on deposit at the Musée du Louvre).
Anne Roquebert inDegas and the Nude. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston, 2011, pp. 21, 222, fig. 21 (color) [French ed., "Degas et le nu," Paris, 2012, pp. 39, 272, fig. 20 (color)].