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Actress in Her Dressing Room

Actress in Her Dressing Room, c. 1875-1880 and c. 1895-1905

Edgar Degas
French, 1834-1917
Oil on canvas
33-5/8 x 29-3/4 in. (85.4 x 75.6 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

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Though a regular subscriber and a steady presence at the ballet, Degas seems to have taken less interest in the theater; dancers, not actresses, were his great subject. But this scene of an actress in her dressing room suggests that elaborate backstage artifice of all kinds exerted a pull on the painter’s imagination. Costumed for a seventeenth-century period drama, the actress takes a last appraising look in the mirror. The cramped space and lurid gaslight turn her reflection into a mask of grease paint. Like Women Ironing and Dancers in the Rotunda at the Paris Opéra, this picture was likely begun in the 1870s and reworked years later, perhaps as late as 1905, when Degas had absorbed the influence of a younger artist, the radical colorist Paul Gauguin.

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