Before the Bath

Before the Bath
Ruth Weisberg, 1990
color monotype, 64.8 x 50.8 cm
(25 1/2 x 20 in.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Gary and Brenda Ruttenberg

Weisberg Biography

The intimacy of Edgar Degas's monotypes was due not only to their size but also to his choice of subject matter and manipulation of ink. One of his primary themes is the female figure in an interior setting, engaged in grooming herself. When Ruth Weisberg explored this theme in a group of monotypes from 1990, including Before the Bath, the reference to Degas is clear in the figure kneeling beside the large circular basin. The leg of an easel establishes the setting as the artist's studio; hence the figure may be perceived as a model. In fact, the model is the artist's daughter, who often served as a symbol of the artist. Recalling Degas's use of the whiteness of paper as a source of light in his dark-field monotypes, Weisberg intensifies the light to create a supernatural brightness, which adds a ritual overtone to the simple act of bathing and moderates the intimacy of the moment by suggesting a timeless quality. The limited palette, as well as the distance established by an image printed rather than directly drawn, enhances the contemplative quality of the figure. By alluding to Degas's imagery, Weisberg appears to be questioning her own place in a tradition defined primarily by men. "An artist like me," she states, "whose work refers in technique and universal themes to traditional past art styles, has to ask how this process of reinventing the past unfolds--how artists can continue to make art that is innovative and meaningful while it maintains a relationship with all the information, values, culture that got us here."

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