Edgar Degas (French, 18341917)
Bronze, number 53/A; 14 3/8 x 8 1/4 x 7 1/2 in. (36.5 x 21 x 19.1 cm)
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.393)
This bronze probably depicts a working woman snatching a moment of respite from her daily labor. Nineteenth-century Paris was full of working women employed as milliner's assistants and laundresses. Degas recorded some of them at their labor in pastels such as The Milliners, dated 1882, now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, and in paintings, notably the series titled Women Ironing, one of which is now in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. While the Women Ironing series does not include a figure that corresponds exactly to the sculpture, the woman yawning and stretching is surely related. The painting in the Musée d'Orsay is thought to date about 188486.
The sculpture is one of Degas' lesser known but illuminating works. He was obviously preoccupied with recording the sketch. The woman's head, with its nightmarish features, is twisted into a difficult position, perhaps as a result of an accident to the wax model, but it is surely no accident that the hands, too, are misshapen and rudimentary and that the feet sink into the base of the sculpture, merging with it.