In this painting, Degas incorporates many of the compositional devices evident in the non-western tradition that were being used by the Impressionists, such as the oval shape created by the laundress’ arms, the radical cropping and strong diagonal of the up-slanted work table, and the use of curtained veil around her face. These pictorial elements contribute to the feeling of claustrophobia and confined surroundings.
The screen of drying clothes also produces a feeling of anonymity, with the laundry blocking the viewer from clearly seeing details of her face. The vibrant colors and loose brushstrokes which Degas employs, provide pictorial intensity which echoes the steamy atmosphere in which the women worked. This painting exemplifies Degas’ move away from his early detailed works to his later style, which is bolder and more painterly.
Associate Curator Kate Kunau