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Portrait of Madame Dietz-Monnin, 1879

Edgar Degas

French, 1834-1917
Pastel on brown paper
18-1/2 x 12-1/2 in. (47.0 x 31.8 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation, Gift of Mr. Norton Simon
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

Not on view

This pastel is one of four executed by Edgar Degas in preparation for an unfinished portrait of the sitter (Art Institute of Chicago). Adèle Dietz-Monnin was the wife of an industrialist, barely known to the artist, and the portrait was likely a commission—an exception for Degas, who tended to portray his family and those of his inner circle. The rapid handling of the pastel to describe the sitter’s unusual costume and the rather casual pose are both testaments to Degas’s unconventional approach to portraiture. They may also be the reasons for Dietz-Monnin’s ultimate abandonment of the project. In a letter written, but never sent, Degas expresses his frustration with the sitter: “Let us leave the portrait alone, I beg of you. I was so surprised by your letter suggesting I reduce it to a boa and a hat that I shall not answer you...Must I tell you that I regret having started something in my own manner only to find myself transforming it completely into yours?...But, dear Madame, I cannot go into this more fully without showing you only too clearly that I am very much hurt.”

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