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Le pédicure, 1873

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Artist EDGAR DEGAS The purchase of this panting on 21 January 1899 by Comte Isaac de Camondo resulted in a brief quarrel between Paul Durand-Ruel and H.O Havemeyer, who had believed it was reserved for him. A few years earlier, Marry Cassatt, who counselled the American collector on his acquisitions, had described The Pedicure as “a remarkably fine work of the artist”. Indeed, the great difference between the Fr 5,000 which Degas received for the work in July 1892 and the Fr 60,000 Camondo paid for it less than seven years later is a reflection not only of the relative scarcity of works by Degas on the market, but also of the exceptional quality of this painting.
It is quite likely that Degas painted The Pedicure during his last three months in New Orleans, since it is dated 1873. According to Lemoisne, who relied on the accounts of the family in Louisiana, the young girl in the picture is the ten-year -old Joe Balfour, daughter of Estelle Musson and Lazare David Balfour. Although the subject matter is American, there is no evidence that the work was actually executed in the Unites States. In his correspondence Degas mentions painting only family portraits and the two versions of the “Cotton Market” while in New Orleans; it is very provably that The Pedicure was among the accumulated projects he described in a letter to the Danish painter Frolich on 27 November 1872, saying they would “take me ten life-times to complete” and which were finished in the calm of his Paris studio.
Degas mounted paper on canvas and used essence over previously brushed-in outlines; this technique produced soft, matte tones and was superior to oil in subtly translating the effects of shadow and light. X-radiography of the painting shows that he added a few more touches at a later stage, draping the piece of clothing over the sofa, further tilting the chiropodist’s head, hiding the previously visible collar of his shirt, and extending the top of he dresser and altering the objects on it. Wrapped as if in a shroud, eyes closed, attended by the watchful chiropodist leaning over her, the child is like a saint in a medieval or Renaissance work, whose death is being mourned by a faithful disciple. The use of essence reinforces this connection with classical painting. But the shroud is only a protective sheet, the instruments of the Passion only the tub and file ,and the Lamentation now secularised, becomes the “portrait of two sheets, one used as a dressing gown.”


Institution Musée d'Orsay
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 61 x 46 cm













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