During the formative years that Degas spent working in Italy, 1856 to 1859, he made copies after Old Masters as well as studies of men and women in local costume, both subjects popular among the community of French artists who flocked to Rome. This painting combines a figural style and palette reminiscent of Poussin with an eye for realist detail, evident in the rendering of the woman’s wizened skin and gnarled hands. Monumental and unsparing, the picture avoids the picturesque sentimentality common to many contemporary images of peasants and beggars.
The artist, Paris (until 1898); [Durand-Ruel, Paris and New York, 1898–at least 1954; bought from the artist on May 24, 1898; stock no. 4681]; [Sam Salz, New York, until 1956; sold to Goldman]; Charles Goldman, New York (1956–d. 1966; life interest to his widow, Mathilda Schwartz Goldman, 1966–d. 2001)
Cambridge, Mass. Fogg Art Museum. "Degas: Loan Exhibition Arranged by Students," May 9–30, 1931, no. 1 (as "Old Italian Woman," lent by Durand-Ruel, Inc.).
New York. Durand-Ruel Galleries. "Exhibition of Paintings by Degas, Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, and Sisley prior to 1880," October 12–November 2, 1931, no. 11 (as "Vieille Italienne, Rome").
New York. Durand-Ruel. "Exhibition of Paintings by the Master Impressionists," October 15–November 10, 1934, no. 4 (as "Vieille Italienne Rome").
Baltimore Museum of Art. "Paintings by the Master Impressionists," November 27, 1935–January 1, 1936, no. 1 (as "Italian Woman," lent by Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York).
New York. Durand-Ruel. "Masterpieces by Degas," March 22–April 10, 1937, no. 15 (as "Vielle [sic] Femme").
Cleveland Museum of Art. "Works by Edgar Degas," February 5–March 9, 1947, no. 4 (as "Old Italian Woman," lent by Durand-Ruel, Inc., New York).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Degas in the Metropolitan," February 26–September 4, 1977, no. 2 (of paintings).
Athens. National Pinakothiki, Alexander Soutzos Museum. "Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Memories and Revivals of the Classical Spirit," September 24–December 31, 1979, no. 98.
Rome. Villa Medici. "Degas e l'Italia," December 1, 1984–February 10, 1985, no. 38.
Rome. Villa Medici. "D'Ingres à Degas. Les artistes français à Rome," March 7–June 29, 2003, no. 118.
New York. Dahesh Museum of Art. "French Artists in Rome: Ingres to Degas, 1803–1873," September 3–November 2, 2003, unnumbered cat. (as "An Old Italian Woman").
Georges Grappe. Edgar Degas. Berlin, , ill. p. 8, as "Vieille Femme".
P.-A Lemoisne. Degas. Paris, 1912, p. 22.
Paul Lafond. Degas. Vol. 2, Paris, 1919, p. 1, calls it "Femme à cheveux blancs".
Henri Hertz. Degas. Paris, 1920, p. 71, calls it "Vieille italienne" and describes it as stripped of anecdotal detail.
Julius Meier-Graefe. Degas. Munich, 1920, pp. 5–6, pl. 5 [English ed., 1923, p. 20, pl. V], calls it "Die Frau mit dem gelben Tuch" and considers it reminiscent of Poussin.
Henri Rivière. Les Dessins de Degas: Reproduits en fac-simile. Paris, 1922, unpaginated, under no. 1, states that Degas probably used the same model for a drawing of an old woman (now MMA 1980.200).
J. B. Manson. The Life and Work of Edgar Degas. London, 1927, p. 7, calls it "Old Woman with a Yellow Shawl".
Camille Mauclair. Degas. London, , p. 166, pl. 62, as "An Old Italian Woman," in a private collection.
Marguerite Rebatet. Degas. Paris, 1944, pl. 2.
P[aul]. A[ndré]. Lemoisne. Degas et son œuvre. [reprint 1984]. Paris, [1946–49], vol. 1, p. 19; vol. 2, pp. 12–13, no. 29, ill., calls it "Vieille italienne (Femme au châle jaune)"; comments that this picture and "Roman Beggar Woman" of the same year (Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England; L28) were the first "subjects" treated by Degas, who had previously painted landscapes and portraits; observes the influence of Ingres and mentions a related drawing (MMA 1980.200).
Robert Rey. Degas. Paris, 1952, pl. 4.
Pierre Cabanne. Edgar Degas. Paris, , pp. 19, 95, 101, no. 2, pl. 2 [English ed., 1958], calls it "La Vieille Italienne (La Femme au châle jaune)".
Phoebe Pool. Degas. London, 1963, p. 15, calls it "Old Italian Woman with a Yellow Shawl"; suggests that Degas may have followed the example of Victor Schnetz, director of the French Academy, who took young artists on expeditions to study Italian popular life.
Fiorella Minervino inL'opera completa di Degas. Milan, 1970, pp. 89–90, no. 70, ill., cites [Anna] Ottani Cavina's verbal opinion that this picture probably derives from a Ceruti painting.
Charles S. Moffett. Degas: Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1979, pp. 5–6, 15 n. 3, colorpl. 3, relates it to seventeenth-century baroque realism, particularly images of beggars, peasants, and poor people in Rome, noting that Degas called himself a realist even when exhibiting with the Impressionists; cites Theodore Reff's observation that Corot influenced Degas's early genre subjects.
Keith Roberts. Degas. rev., enl. ed. [1st ed., 1976]. Oxford, 1982, unpaginated, under no. 2, calls the sitter's melancholic resignation reminiscent of Le Nain.
Henri Loyrette. Degas e l'Italia. Exh. cat., Villa Medici. [Rome], 1984, pp. 100, 116–19, no. 38, ill. (color), rejects the link between the MMA drawing (1980.200) and this painting, noting that the drawing is dated one year earlier, and that the pose and draperies are different; cites a 1982 letter by George T. M. Shackelford [in archive file] proposing that the drawing is instead directly related to Degas's painting "Woman with Ibises" (1861; private collection; L87); sees elements of genre and especially portraiture in our painting, in the tradition of Ceruti.
Henri Loyrette inDegas. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. New York, 1988, pp. 49, 69–70, fig. 31.
Renato Barilli inIl secondo '800 italiano: le poetiche del vero. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 1988, ill. p. 21.
Henri Loyrette. Degas. Paris, 1991, pp. 104–5.
Jean Sutherland Boggs inDegas Portraits. Exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zürich. London, 1994, p. 87.
Gary Tinterow inMaestà di Roma, da Napoleone all'unità d'Italia: D'Ingres à Degas, les artistes français à Rome. Ed. Olivier Bonfait. Exh. cat., Villa Medici, Rome. [Milan], 2003, pp. 436–37, no. 118, ill. pp. 265 (color) and 436.
Ann Dumas inDegas: classico e moderno. Ed. Maria Teresa Benedetti. Exh. cat., Complesso del Vittoriano, Rome. Milan, 2004, p. 47, fig. 3.
Colin B. Bailey inMasterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection. Ed. Susan Alyson Stein and Asher Ethan Miller. 4th rev. ed. [1st ed., 1989]. New York, 2009, pp. 24–25 n. 5.
A drawing of a seated woman with a shawl covering her head and her face buried in her hands, dated "Rome 1856" (MMA 1980.200), has been linked with this picture by some scholars (see Rivière 1922 and Lemoisne 1946), but the connection is rejected by Loyrette (1984).