Women Ironing

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Begun c.1875-1876; reworked c.1882-1886
Oil on canvas 
32-1/4 x 29-3/4 in. (81.9 x 75.5 cm) 
Credit Line:
Norton Simon Art Foundation 
Accession Number:
© Norton Simon Art Foundation 
On View

Once a private, domestic chore, laundry was big business in nineteenth-century Paris, where it employed roughly twenty-five percent of the female workforce. Steamy, dark storefronts, often open to the sidewalk, gave passersby a glimpse of women ironing, bare-armed in the heat. Born into an aristocratic family, Degas was fascinated by working women and by the increasingly porous distinctions between private and public, domestic and commercial in the modern city. His paintings of laundresses—none finer than the present example—reflect this fascination. Probably begun in the 1870s and reworked about a decade later, this picture suggests the brutalizing effects of hard labor. The women hunch, yawn, and drink over a pile of starched shirts, yet the peculiar delicacy of Degas’s touch—mimicking, in the flesh tones, his own work in pastels—reminds us of the laundresses’ youth and femininity.


The artist, sold 18 October 1902, as Les deux blanchisseuses, 1882, for Fr. 15,000 to;
[Durand-Ruel, Paris, stock no. 7184, sold 18 November 1902, for Ff 20,000, to];
Oscar Schmitz (1861-1933), Dresden, and Switzerland (1931-1933);
Schmitz heirs (Edouard Schmitz), still in 1935;
[Wildenstein Galleries, Paris, London and New York by 1936];
?Edith Dunn (Mrs. Alfred Chester) Beatty (d. 1952), by 1953 inheritance to;
Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968), London and Dublin, consigned 30 December 1958 to;
[Arthur Tooth & Sons, London; sold 7 April 1959 to];
Lucille Ellis, Norton and Robert Ellis Simon, in 1969 after Robert Simon's death to;
Norton Simon and The Norton Simon Foundation, 1971 to;
Norton Simon gave his half interest to NSAF;
Norton Simon Art Foundation and Norton Simon Foundation;
Norton Simon Foundation sold its 1/2 interest to;
Norton Simon Art Foundation.

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