Degas exhibited only one sculpture during his lifetime, the wax Little Dancer Fourteen Years Old (Dressed Ballet Dancer), at the Sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881. (A plaster cast from this wax is in the National Gallery of Art's collection.) Many critics reacted with shock to its subject, which they found harshly realistic and even ugly, and to its unconventional incorporation of actual, rather than sculpturally imitated, fabric and hair.
In his other sculptures, not meant for exhibition, Degas worked less in pursuit of perfect forms than in restless exploration of movement and composition. Using soft, pliable materials, he built up his figures on makeshift armatures reinforced with brush handles, matches, or whatever else was at hand. The waxes, whose lumpish surfaces leave his labor visible, have a translucent character that conveys an astonishing sense of life.
Like the Little Dancer, The Tub employs actual as well as represented materials. The figure may be wax, the water plaster, but they occupy a real lead basin resting on a wooden base covered with plaster-soaked rags. In a bird's-eye view, the circular tub and square base create a foil for the convoluted twists of the figure. The result is an intriguing interplay of two-dimensional geometric shapes and three-dimensional natural forms.
The artist [1834-1917]; his heirs; Adrien-Aurélien Hébrard [1865-1937], Paris; his daughter, Nelly Hébrard [1904-1985], Paris; consigned 1955 to (M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., New York); purchased May 1956 by Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia; gift 1985 to NGA.
- Edgar Degas 1834-1917: Original Wax Sculptures, M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., New York, 1955, no. 26, repro.
- Sculpture by Degas, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 1956.
- An Enduring Legacy: Masterpieces from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999-2000, no cat.
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- Barbour, Daphne, and Shelley Sturman. "Degas' Women in Washington: Four Case Studies." In From Marble to Chocolate: The Conservation of Modern Sculpture, edited by Jackie Heuman, 31-38. London, 1995: 36, figs. 6, 7 (radiograph).
- Campbell, Sara. "A Catalogue of Degas' Bronzes." Apollo 142 (August 1995): 10-48, no. 26.
- Sturman, Shelley, and Daphne Barbour. "The Materials of the Sculptor: Degas' Techniques." Apollo (1995): 53, figs. 17, 18.
- Czestochowski, Joseph S., and Anne Pingeot. Degas--Sculptures. Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes. Memphis, 2002: 82, 173, figs. 17, 18, repro.
- Lindsay, Suzanne Glover, Daphne S. Barbour, and Shelley G. Sturman. Edgar Degas Sculpture. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2010: no. 42, 253-258, color repro.
- Barbour, Daphne, and Shelley Sturman. "Casting Degas's Sculpture into Bronze: A Closer Look" In Degas, Daphne Barbour and Suzanne Quillen Lomax, eds. Facture. Conservation, Science, Art History 3 (2017): 78-111, esp. 86-88, fig. 8.
- Lomax, Suzanne Quillen, Barbara H. Berrie, and Michael Palmer. "Edgar Degas's Wax Sculptures: Characterization and Comparison with Contemporary Practice." In Degas, Daphne Barbour and Suzanne Quillen Lomax, eds. Facture. Conservation, Science, Art History 3 (2017): 50-77, esp. 71, fig. 19.