This groundbreaking exhibition is the first to explore Impressionist artist Edgar Degas’s representations of Parisian laundresses. These working-class women were a visible presence in the city, washing and ironing in shops open to the street or carrying heavy baskets of clothing. Their job was among the most difficult and poorly paid at the time, forcing some laundresses to supplement their income through prostitution. The industry fascinated Degas throughout his long career, beginning in the 1850s and continuing until his final decade of work. He created about 30 depictions of laundresses, united for the first time in this exhibition. The artworks from this series—revolutionary in their emphasis on women’s work, the strenuousness of such labor, and social class—were featured in Degas’s earliest and most significant exhibitions, where they were praised by critics as epitomizing modernity.
Degas and the Laundress contextualizes these works with paintings, drawings, and prints of the same subject by the artist’s contemporaries—including Gustave Caillebotte, Berthe Morisot, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec—as well as painters that he influenced and was influenced by, from Honoré Daumier to Pablo Picasso. It also presents ephemera, such as posters, photographs, and books, that reveals the widespread interest that Parisians of all social classes had in the topic of laundresses during the late 1800s.
The exhibition is accompanied by an interdisciplinary, richly illustrated publication featuring thematic essays by scholars of art history, literature, and history.