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.

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Edgar Degas, French, 1834–1917
Woman Drying Herself
c. 1905
Charcoal and pastel on tracing paper, mounted by the artist on wove paper
Sheet: 31 × 31 in. (78.7 × 78.7 cm) Frame (outer): 41 1/4 × 41 3/8 × 4 in. (104.8 × 105.1 × 10.2 cm)
Credit Line

The Robert Lee Blaffer Memorial Collection, gift of Sarah Campbell Blaffer

Current Location
Not on view
Accession Number
Drawings, Pastels & Watercolors

Estate of the artist [Lugt 658]; [Second Degas sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, lot 70, illus., December 11-13, 1918 (known as Femme s’essuyant)]; [Jacques Seligmann, New York, Durand-Ruel, as of January 28, 1921]; sold to Dr. Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951), The Barnes Foundation, inv. no. 290, Merion, PA, January 28, 1921-May 24, 1935; [by exchange, New York, Etienne Bignou Gallery, as of May 24, 1935]; [Paris, Galerie Nunès et Fiquet] [Lemoisne 1423], as of 1946; Mrs. Robert Lee (Sarah Campbell) Blaffer (1885-1975), Houston, as of December 27, 1956; gift to The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as of December 27, 1956.