Degas, Drapery Study

Edgar DEGAS (1834-1917), Drapery Study. Study for Semiramis Building Babylon, ca. 1860-1862, graphite, Pierre Noire pencil and white gouache, on blue-grey laid paper, 32.8 x 31.3 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Florian Kleinefenn
Edgar DEGAS (1834-1917)
Drapery Study. Study for Semiramis Building Babylon
ca. 1860-1862
graphite, Pierre Noire pencil and white gouache, on blue-grey laid paper
32.8 x 31.3 cm
© MuMa Le Havre / Florian Kleinefenn
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Edgar Degas (1834–1917) pursued a classical education at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris followed by a three-year period of study in Italy. He returned to Paris in 1859 with the ambition to revive the historical painting genre and began work on five paintings: The Daughter of Jephthah, Semiramis Building Babylon, Alexander and Bucephalus, Spartan Girls Challenging Boys and Scene of War in the Middle Ages. The numerous preparatory studies that have survived reflect the slow and difficult maturation of these works. Seeking an impossible synthesis that would renew the historical genre, the eternally dissatisfied artist eventually abandoned his compositions, leaving most of them unfinished. Only Scene of War in the Middle Ages was completed and presented at the Salon of 1865.

Drapery Study belongs to a series of preparatory drawings for the painting Semiramis Building Babylon, now part of the Musée d'Orsay collection. In this artwork, Degas depicts the legendary founder of Babylon, Semiramis, Queen of Assyria, accompanied by her attendants, standing on a terrace contemplating the construction of the city on the banks of the Euphrates River below.
Degas worked on this painting for almost two years, executing numerous studies in pencil, wash, pastel and oil, for the overall composition and each one of the characters.

This drawing shows Semiramis' attendant, standing just behind the queen. The Musée d'Orsay has other drawings of this character, providing insight into the way the artist worked. The woman was first drawn nude to determine the exact position of the body, then half-draped and finally fully draped, to deliver a drapery study of exceptional virtuosity and finesse. The delicate fading of the pencil, combined with the light fluidity of the white paint, helps subtly model the movements of the body wrapped in the supple fabric.
Olivier Senn, a collector from Le Havre, purchased a preparatory pastel for Semiramis, which was donated by his son, Édouard, to the Musée d'Orsay in his father's memory.

Artworks in context : Graphic arts (18)

Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973), The Beggar, 1904, watercolour on paper, 36 x 26 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Charles Maslard — © Succession Picasso, 2013
Edgar DEGAS (1834-1917), Drapery Study. Study for Semiramis Building Babylon, ca. 1860-1862, graphite, Pierre Noire pencil and white gouache, on blue-grey laid paper, 32.8 x 31.3 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Florian Kleinefenn
Charles de la FOSSE (1636-1716), Study for Saint John the Evangelist, red chalk reinforced with Pierre Noire pencil, traces of white chalk, 41.7 x 23 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Florian Kleinefenn
Henri Edmond CROSS (1856-1910), Woman and Dog Among the Umbrella Pines, charcoal on laid watermarked paper bearing the Auguste Lepage stamp, 24.3 x 31 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / David Fogel
Albert MARQUET (1875-1947), Woman, Child and Man from Behind, ca. 1904, black ink on wove paper, 19.5 x 27.6 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Charles Maslard — © ADAGP, Paris, 2013
Armand GUILLAUMIN (1841-1927), The Banks of the Orge at Breuillet, 1895, pastel on paper, 60 x 47 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Charles Maslard
Henri Edmond CROSS (1856-1910), Sunset, watercolour on vellum paper. © MuMa Le Havre
Henri Edmond CROSS (1856-1910), Le Mourillon, 1906, watercolour and black pencil on thick vellum paper, 16.9 x 24.7 cm. Senn-Foulds collection. © MuMa Le Havre / Florian Kleinefenn
Edgar DEGAS (1834-1917), Saddle Horse, ca. 1862, graphite on tracing paper, 17.8 x 28.1 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Florian Kleinefenn
Edgar DEGAS (1834-1917), Marguerite Degas, ca. 1859-1860, graphite on wove paper, 30.1 x 23.2 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Florian Kleinefenn
Eugène DELACROIX (1798-1863), Six Studies of Cats, brown ink on vellum papier, 18.8 x 18 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Charles Maslard
Armand GUILLAUMIN (1841-1927), Fog at Sunrise, 1919, pastel on paper, 47 x 62 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Florian Kleinefenn
Armand GUILLAUMIN (1841-1927), Maritime Pines, Creek in Le Brusc, ca. 1911, pastel on paper, 48 x 62 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Charles Maslard
Armand GUILLAUMIN (1841-1927), Bridge Over the Sédelle, Crozant, 1896, pastel on paper, 47 x 60 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Florian Kleinefenn
Armand GUILLAUMIN (1841-1927), Woman's Head in Profile, 1878, pastel on paper, 47 x 32 cm . © MuMa Le Havre / Florian Kleinefenn
Albert MARQUET (1875-1947), Sinuous Woman (front), ca. 1904, Indian ink on wove paper, 28.5 x 18.8 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Charles Maslard — © ADAGP, Paris, 2015
Odilon REDON (1840-1916), Profile of a Man with a Bouquet of Flowers, ca. 1880-1885, charcoal with black pencil, smudging, marks of erasing on vellum paper, 48.1 x 36.2 cm. Senn-Foulds collection. © MuMa Le Havre / Florian Kleinefenn
Armand GUILLAUMIN (1841-1927), Mill on the Creuse, 1896, pastel on paper, 47.5 x 61 cm. © MuMa Le Havre / Florian Kleinefenn