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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
French, 1834 - 1917
Woman Drying Herself
c. 1905
Charcoal and pastel on tracing paper, mounted by the artist on wove paper

31 x 31 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Robert Lee Blaffer Memorial Collection
Gift of Sarah Campbell Blaffer

Arts of Europe

Edgar Degas was the most accomplished draftsman of the Impressionists. Woman Drying Herself depicts one of his favorite subjects: a female bather drying her hair. This masterly work of his late career, probably executed when he was around 70, was found in his studio after he died. 

Degas made more than 200 charcoal and pastel drawings of female bathers, as well as substantial numbers of oil paintings, lithographs, and sculptures. This drawing, from a set of five with identical composition, is on tracing paper, which was the artist's favorite support toward the end of his life. Compared with others from the series, it is only slightly finished. Degas uses heavy charcoal lines to emphasize the woman’s unconscious, habitual movements. The undeveloped background consists of a large anthropomorphic object—perhaps a towel or a servant—and a basin to the right, above which appears a series of indistinct toiletries on a shelf. These pictures of mundane bathers are highly unconventional within their art-historical context. They participate in a genre of representation traditionally dominated by classicized and eroticized depictions of unclothed females.