A Woman Ironing

Edgar Degas (French, Paris 1834–1917 Paris)
Oil on canvas
21 3/8 x 15 1/2 in. (54.3 x 39.4 cm)
Credit Line:
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 815
Much as Degas was fascinated by the movements of dancers, he was also intrigued by the repetitive, specialized gestures made by laundresses as they worked. This painting, the first of three versions of the composition, is distinguished by its dramatic chiaroscuro, with the woman silhouetted against a luminous white backdrop. Purchased by the singer and collector Jean-Baptiste Faure, the canvas was returned so that Degas could rework it. The artist, however, kept the picture and lent it to the 1876 Impressionist exhibition, receiving praise for his "rapidly done silhouettes of laundresses."
Inscription: Signed (lower left): Degas
[Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1873–74; stock no. 3132; bought from the artist on June 6 or 14, 1873 for Fr 2,000; transferred winter 1873 to Durand-Ruel, London; returned to Durand-Ruel, Paris; sold on March 5 or 6, 1874 for Fr 2,000 to Jean-Baptiste Faure for Degas]; the artist, Edgar Degas, Paris (1874–92; sold on February 29, 1892 for Fr 2,500 to Durand-Ruel); [Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1892–94; stock no. 2039; deposited with Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, November 3, 1893–February 13, 1894; sold on October 4, 1894 to Durand-Ruel, New York]; [Durand-Ruel, New York, 1894; stock no. 1204; sold on December 18, 1894, for Fr 2,500 to Havemeyer]; Mr. and Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, New York (1894–his d. 1907); Mrs. H. O. (Louisine W.) Havemeyer, New York (1907–d. 1929; cat., 1931, pp. 112–13, ill.)
London. Durand-Ruel. "Seventh Exhibition of the Society of French Artists," November 3–?, 1873, no. 80 (as "The Parisian Laundress," possibly this picture) [see Pantazzi 1988].

Paris. 11, rue Le Peletier. "2e exposition de peinture [2nd Impressionist exhibition]," April 1876, no. 49 (as "Blanchisseuse [silhouette]," possibly this picture).

New York. M. Knoedler & Co. "Loan Exhibition of Masterpieces by Old and Modern Painters," April 6–24, 1915, no. 26 (as "The Laundress").

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The H. O. Havemeyer Collection," March 11–November 2, 1930, no. 56 (as "Woman Ironing") [2nd ed., 1958, no. 114].

Boston. Institute of Modern Art. "France Forever," November 23–December 8, 1943, no catalogue.

Richmond. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Nineteenth Century French Painting: Eighth Anniversary Exhibition of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts," January 19–February 20, 1944, no. 22.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Degas in the Metropolitan," February 26–September 4, 1977, no. 14 (of paintings).

Washington. National Gallery of Art. "The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886," January 17–April 6, 1986, no. 26.

San Francisco. M. H. de Young Memorial Museum. "The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886," April 19–July 6, 1986, no. 26.

Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Degas," February 9–May 16, 1988, no. 122.

Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "Degas," June 16–August 28, 1988, no. 122.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Degas," September 27, 1988–January 8, 1989, no. 122.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection," March 27–June 20, 1993, no. A205.

New Orleans Museum of Art. "Degas and New Orleans: A French Impressionist in America," May 1–August 29, 1999, no. 37.

Copenhagen. Ordrupgaard. "Degas et la Nouvelle-Orléans," September 17–November 28, 1999, no. 29.

Rome. Complesso del Vittoriano. "Degas: Classico e moderno," October 1, 2004–February 1, 2005, no. 25.

New York. Museum of Modern Art. "Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty," March 26–July 24, 2016, no. 54 (as "A Woman Ironing [Blanchisseuse (Silhouette)]").

Louis Leroy. "Choses et autres." Le Journal amusant (April 15, 1876), p. 6.

Louis Leroy. "La Réception d'un impressionniste." Le Charivari (April 15, 1876), pp. 2–3 [reprinted in Ref. Berson 1996, vol. 1, p. 89].

Emile Porcheron. "Promenades d'un flâneur: Les Impressionnistes." Le Soleil (April 4, 1876), pp. 2–3 [reprinted in Ref. Berson 1996, vol. 1, p. 103], comments that this picture inspires one to ask whether the coal seller is a laundress or the laundress is a coal seller.

Arthur Baignères. "Exposition de peinture par un groupe d'artistes, rue le Peletier." Echo Universel (April 13, 1876) [excerpt in Engl. translation published in Ref. Gross 2003, p. 51].

Jean Dolent. Le Livre d'art des femmes: Peinture, sculpture. Paris, 1877, p. 111, [possibly this picture].

Edgar Degas. Letter to Durand-Ruel. [August 28, 1891] [published in "Degas inédit: Actes du Colloque Degas," Paris, 1989, p. 448; identified as a possible reference to this picture by the uncredited editor in n. 2, fig. 1], mentions a picture of a laundress that he has repainted.

"The H. O. Havemeyer Collection." Parnassus 2 (March 1930), p. 7, calls it Degas's personal interpretation of Daumier.

H. O. Havemeyer Collection: Catalogue of Paintings, Prints, Sculpture and Objects of Art. n.p., 1931, pp. 112–13, ill., dates it about 1880.

Louise Burroughs. "Degas in the Havemeyer Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27 (May 1932), p. 142, ill.

Camille Mauclair. Degas. London, [1937], p. 167, pl. 108.

Beatrice von Keller. Nineteenth Century French Painting: Eighth Anniversary Exhibition of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Exh. cat., Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Richmond, 1944, pp. 13–14, no. 22, dates it about 1880 and calls it a sketch for the version now National Gallery of Art, Washington (L685); observes in it "the actualities and sordid realities of the poorer classes in their struggle for existence".

Louis Emile Edmond Duranty. La Nouvelle peinture: A propos du Groupe d'Artistes qui expose dans les Galeries Durand-Ruel (1876). 2nd ed. [1st ed. 1876]. Paris, 1946, p. 45, [possibly this picture].

P[aul]. A[ndré]. Lemoisne. Degas et son œuvre. [reprint 1984]. Paris, [1946–49], vol. 1, p. 87; vol. 2, pp. 188–89, no. 356, ill., calls it "Repasseuse à contre-jour" and dates it about 1874.

Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 3, XIX–XX Centuries. New York, 1967, pp. 77–78, ill., note that it may be a preparatory study for the National Gallery of Art painting (L685).

Fiorella Minervino in L'opera completa di Degas. Milan, 1970, pp. 103–4, no. 368, ill.

Denys Sutton. Edgar Degas, 1834–1917. Exh. cat., Lefevre Fine Art Ltd. London, 1970, p. 40, under no. 10, calls it "Repasseuse à Contre Jour" and dates it about 1874.

Françoise Cachin in Jean Adhémar and Françoise Cachin. Edgar Degas: Gravures et monotypes. Paris, 1973, p. xxiv, compares its rapid execution, improvisatory nature, and fluidity of medium with Degas's monotypes.

Erich Steingräber. "'La repasseuse': Zur frühesten Version des Themas von Edgar Degas." Pantheon 32 (January–March 1974), pp. 51–53 n. 17, fig. 3, dates it about 1874; notes the influence of Japanese woodcuts in the decentralized composition and silhouetted figure.

Theodore Reff. Degas, The Artist's Mind. [New York], 1976, pp. 166, 168, 321 n. 68, fig. 118 (color), dates it about 1874; discusses the similarities between Degas's women ironing and Emile Zola's descriptions of laundresses in his novel "The Dram-Shop".

Bernard Dorival in "Ukiyo-e and European Painting." Dialogue in Art: Japan and the West. Ed. Chisaburoh F. Yamada. New York, 1976, p. 45, fig. 27, dates it 1882; states that Degas borrowed the portrayal of a figure from behind, silhouetted against the light, from Japanese ukiyo-e prints; notes that his series of women ironing may have been inspired by Japanese prints of figures pressing on printing blocks.

Edward Morris and Martin Hopkinson. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool: Foreign Catalogue. [Liverpool], 1977, text vol., pp. 51–52, under no. 6645, date it about 1874.

Maurice Sérullaz in Phaidon Encyclopedia of Impressionism. Oxford, 1978, p. 88, calls it "Woman Ironing Against the Light" and dates it 1874.

Janet F. Buerger. "Degas' Solarized and Negative Photographs: A Look at Unorthodox Classicism." Image 21 (June 1978), p. 22, ill. p. 23, dates it about 1874; relates the laundress's silhouetted head to that of a dancer adjusting her straps in a photograph (which she attributes to Degas and tentatively dates before 1881 or even before 1873) found in the Degas files at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

Charles S. Moffett. Degas: Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1979, p. 10, colorpl. 16, dates it about 1874; comments that Degas may have been influenced by Edmond de Goncourt's descriptions of laundresses in his 1867 novel "Manette Solomon," but asserts that "Degas's principal fascination with these women was certainly linked to their specialized skills and repertory of expert movements and gestures".

Joel Isaacson. The Crisis of Impressionism: 1878–1882. Exh. cat., University of Michigan Museum of Art. [Ann Arbor, Mich.], 1979, p. 91, under no. 14.

Ronald Pickvance. Degas 1879. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Scotland. Edinburgh, 1979, p. 63, under no. 70, dates it before 1872 and states that it was based on the charcoal drawing (third Degas sale, no. 269; private collection).

Gabriel P. Weisberg. The Realist Tradition: French Painting and Drawing 1830–1900. Exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland, 1980, p. 69, under no. 33, suggests that Degas may have been influenced by François Bonvin's painting "Woman Ironing" (1858; Philadelphia Museum of Art).

Eunice Lipton. "The Laundress in Late Nineteenth-Century French Culture: Imagery, Ideology and Edgar Degas." Art History 3 (September 1980), pp. 305, 307–8, 312 n. 56, p. 313 n. 58, pl. 36, dates it about 1874; argues that Degas's choice to depict commercial ironers was "provocative, since these women were full of sexual meaning for a middle-class spectator"; comments that Degas captured the repetitive, physically grueling, and alienating nature of these women's work and "in this way his paintings are penetrated by the class conflict endemic to his times. The discrepancy between his social and political conservatism on the one hand and his radically demystifying vision of these workers on the other, is stunning".

Eugénie de Keyser. Degas: Réalité et métaphore. Louvain-la-Neuve, 1981, p. 40, calls it "La Repasseuse à contre-jour" and dates it 1874.

Keith Roberts. Degas. rev., enl. ed. [1st ed., 1976]. Oxford, 1982, unpaginated, under no. 35, fig. 30, dates it about 1872.

Charles F. Stuckey in Degas: Form and Space. Ed. Maurice Guillaud. Exh. cat., Centre Culturel du Marais. Paris, 1984, p. 36, discusses it in relation to the version in the National Gallery of Art (L685), asserting that "it is impossible to determine whether one is a study for the other or a répétition, done years later perhaps".

Kate Flint, ed. Impressionists in England: The Critical Reception. London, 1984, pp. 4, 358, comments that when "The Parisian Laundress" [possibly this picture] was exhibited in Durand-Ruel's 1873 London exhibition it was not mentioned by the critics, adding that "because of its uncompromisingly realistic subject matter, one might have expected [it] to draw adverse criticism".

Charles S. Moffett. Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1985, pp. 72–73, 250, ill. (color), dates it 1874; argues that Degas's pictures of laundresses "rise above the picturesque concerns of genre painting and the issues of poverty and class struggle"; asserts that his primary interest was the ironers' repertory of skilled movements.

Götz Adriani. Degas: Pastels, Oil Sketches, Drawings. Exh. cat., Kunsthalle Tübingen. New York, 1985, p. 361, under no. 88, notes that the proportions of the squared charcoal drawing (private collection) coincide with those of this painting.

Frances Weitzenhoffer. The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America. New York, 1986, pp. 98, 255, pl. 49, dates it 1874.

Eunice Lipton. Looking into Degas: Uneasy Images of Women and Modern Life. Berkeley, 1986, pp. 117–18, 135, 140, 143, 212 nn. 32–33, fig. 68, dates it about 1874.

Hollis Clayson in The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886. Ed. Charles S. Moffett. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington. San Francisco, 1986, pp. 146, 148, 161, 175, no. 26, ill. (color), calls it "Blanchisseuse (Silhouette)" and dates it about 1874; identifies it as one of the five pictures of laundresses shown by Degas in the 1876 Impressionist exhibition.

Gary Tinterow in Degas. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. New York, 1988, pp. 425–26, under no. 256, states that Faure bought this painting from Durand-Ruel in 1874 at Degas's request, and that Degas kept it for himself until 1892, when he sold it back to Durand-Ruel, which may have prompted him to create the National Gallery and Walker Art Gallery versions (L685 and 846); suggests that the squared charcoal drawing was copied from this picture in order to recreate the composition in the National Gallery painting.

Michael Pantazzi in Degas. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. New York, 1988, pp. 221, 223–25, no. 122, ill. (color), dates it 1873 since Degas sold it to Durand-Ruel on June 6 of that year; considers it almost certainly included in the 1876 Impressionist exhibition; describes it as the most economical and noble of Degas's early images of ironers.

Henri Loyrette in Degas. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. New York, 1988, p. 180, under no. 111.

Jean Sutherland Boggs in Degas. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. New York, 1988, p. 531, under no. 325.

Eunice Lipton. "Anxiety at the Met." Artforum 27 (October 1988), p. 101.

Gary Tinterow and Anne Norton. "Degas aux expositions impressionnistes." Degas inédit: Actes du Colloque Degas. Paris, 1989, p. 300, fig. 4, identify it as no. 49 in the 1876 Impressionist exhibition; date it about 1869–73 on p. 300 and about 1873–79 in the caption.

Henri Loyrette. Degas. Paris, 1991, pp. 612, 796–97 n. 402.

Carol Armstrong. Odd Man Out: Readings of the Work and Reputation of Edgar Degas. Chicago, 1991, p. 41, fig. 15, calls it "Laundress (A Woman Ironing)" and dates it 1874.

Louisine W. Havemeyer. Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector. Ed. Susan Alyson Stein. 3rd ed. [1st ed. 1930, repr. 1961]. New York, 1993, pp. 257, 337 nn. 373, 376.

Susan Alyson Stein in Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 217.

Charles Harrison. "Impressionism, Modernism and Originality." Modernity and Modernism: French Painting in the Nineteenth Century. New Haven, 1993, p. 146, pl. 138, dates it about 1874.

Gary Tinterow in Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 53 n. 68.

Rebecca A. Rabinow in Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 91, pl. 87 (color), fig. 13 (installation photograph of Exh. New York 1915), dates it 1873.

Gretchen Wold in Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 327, no. A205, ill. p. 326.

Marilyn R. Brown. Degas and the Business of Art: A Cotton Office in New Orleans. University Park, Pa., 1994, pp. 64, 67, fig. 20, calls it "Laundress (Silhouette)" and dates it about 1874; describes it as an example of the feminizing of the depiction of labor.

Albert Boime. Art and the French Commune: Imagining Paris after War and Revolution. Princeton, 1995, pp. 57, 59, fig. 29.

Ruth Berson, ed. "Documentation: Volume I, Reviews and Volume II, Exhibited Works." The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886. San Francisco, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 71, 78, 88–89, 103; vol. 2, p. 35, no. II-49, ill. p. 50, identifies it as no. 49 in the 1876 Impressionist exhibition.

Paul Mitchell and Lynn Roberts. Frameworks: Form, Function & Ornament in European Portrait Frames. London, 1996, p. 459 n. 27.

Gary Tinterow in La collection Havemeyer: Quand l'Amérique découvrait l'impressionnisme. Exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay. Paris, 1997, p. 78 n. 97.

Jean Sutherland Boggs in Degas et la Nouvelle-Orléans. Exh. cat., Ordrupgaard. Copenhagen, 1999, pp. 33–34, 116–17, no. 29, ill. (color), calls it "Blanchisseuse (silhouette)" and dates it 1874; argues that in it Degas reveals respect for the dignity and arduousness of the laundress's task, in contrast to the implied sexuality in his 1869 images of women ironing.

Jean Sutherland Boggs in Degas and New Orleans: A French Impressionist in America. Exh. cat., New Orleans Museum of Art. New Orleans, 1999, pp. 253–54, 256 n. 9, no. 37, ill. pp. 98 (color detail), 255 (color overall), dates it 1873; states that it is possibly the painting referred to in Ref. Degas 1891.

Richard R. Brettell. Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860–1890. Exh. cat., National Gallery, London. New Haven, 2000, pp. 203–4, fig. 143 (color), sees a connection between the process of ironing and Degas's process of painting, calling the ironer's hands and arms "surrogates for his".

Jennifer R. Gross in Edgar Degas: Defining the Modernist Edge. Ed. Jennifer R. Gross. Exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery. New Haven, 2003, p. 51, as "Ironer with Back Light".

Maria Teresa Benedetti in Degas: Classico e moderno. Ed. Maria Teresa Benedetti. Exh. cat., Complesso del Vittoriano, Rome. Milan, 2004, pp. 226–27, no. 25, ill. (color), dates it 1873.

Elizabeth Easton and Jared Bark. "'Pictures Properly Framed': Degas and Innovation in Impressionist Frames." Burlington Magazine 150 (September 2008), p. 606 n. 5, pp. 607–8, fig. 39 (color), note that Mrs. Havemeyer likely had the current frame on this picture constructed to resemble one of Degas's original frames.

Amanda T. Zehnder in Kimberly A. Jones. Degas/Cassatt. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2014, fig. 19 [installation photograph of New York 1915 exhibition].

Erica E. Hirshler and Elliot Bostwick Davis in Kimberly A. Jones. Degas/Cassatt. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2014, p. 132.

Jodi Hauptman. Degas: A Strange New Beauty. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art. New York, 2016, p. 230, no. 54, colorpl. 54.

Ann Hoenigswald and Kimberly A. Jones. "The Question of Finish in the Work of Edgar Degas." Facture: Conservation, Science, Art History 3 (2017), pp. 30, 33–34, 47 nn. 34, 35, fig. 6 (color), note that both The Met's picture and "Woman Ironing" (National Gallery of Art, Washington) were among the six promised paintings over which Jean-Baptiste Faure brought Degas to court; state that the picture is unlined and on its original stretcher; observe physical and scientific evidence of compositional changes in the figure's back and arms; propose that the signature visible on the unfinished table was added in 1876 for the second Impressionist exhibition and note that an earlier signature is visible with infrared imaging.

Laura Anne Kalba. Color in the Age of Impressionism: Commerce, Technology, and Art. University Park, Pa., 2017, pp. 92–93, fig. 35 (color), compares it to the Washington version and discusses both of them in relation to developments in synthetic dyes.

A charcoal drawing in the third Degas sale (no. 269; private collection), having the same composition and proportions as this painting and squared for transfer, may be a preparatory study for it. There is a small, unpublished drawing, now in a private collection, possibly made after this picture.