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Edgar Degas did not care for painting portraits as he preferred to capture the essence of a group setting.
Nevertheless, the artist occasionally produced a few portraits throughout his work. Some of these include Elena Carafa, and Madame De Rutte. It’s unknown whether Degas was commissioned to produce these pieces, or simply was intrigued by these young women. The artist also produced a stunning portrait of two men titled General Mellinet and Chief Rabbi Astruc. Madame Camus With A Fan strongly resembles another portrait by Degas titled Woman Seated On A Balcony. Both pieces illustrate woman seated in what seems to resemble a social setting. The artist’s contemporaries Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet often created similar portraits throughout their work when face with the task. Yet, all artists prefer to focus on different themes that truly captivated them.
The painting showcases a young woman seated at her side as she looks ahead. She is dressed in a deep red gown that covers her arms and upper back. The dress falls towards her feet as the artist clearly illustrates it. The dress opens near the woman’s chest in a deep cut. White fabrics fill her chest. The viewer is able to spot a bow beneath her chest. The woman’s hair is placed in an up-do behind her head as it gently falls. The viewer is able to get a glimpse of her face as it’s illuminated by a lamp. Her point nose is small, alongside her lips. Her eyes are portrayed immensely large and truly captivated the viewer. As it seems that her lips are slightly frowning, it’s still difficult to make out the exact facial expression the woman is portraying. Yet, it seems as she is transcended by the light as she looks at it.
The burgundy colour of the woman’s dress is portrayed in an immense amount of detail. Degas uses a realist technique as he showcases the folds and caverns throughout the dress. Rather than simply outlining it and adding an array of additional colours merge the fabric together as one, he carefully depicts the texture of the gown in a silk feel. The woman’s right hand holds onto a large fan in the shape of a leaf. Linear lines begin at the bottom and go outwards on the fan. As the painting cannot fully depict the woman’s movement, since her hand is gently raised it seems as if she is fanning herself. To the right side of the painting, an array of different objects are added to the piece to give it additional detail. A large black sculpture stands in what seems to be a man. His hands are placed above his head as he looks onto the ground. The sculpture seems to resemble an Italian gladiator, yet it is unknown exactly.
Another significant element of the piece is the lamp placed directly in front of the woman. A bright light illuminated her face and adds additional dimension to the room. This is immensely critical as the viewer is able to get a better feel for the room. For example, the light source illuminated the sculpture and is able to showcase more detail. A large shadow of the sculpture covers the back wall, creating the illusion that there are indeed two figures. The yellow light source also adds dimension to the woman as Degas slightly contours parts of her face and neck. Beneath the lamp, a large box is placed in a floral design with a grand ribbon. While it is unknown the exact contents of the box, it seems to resemble either a gift or used for storage.