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A Woman Seated Beside a Vase of Flowers.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917) A Woman Seated Beside a Vase of Flowers (Madame Paul Valpincon?), 1865 Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2" (74 x 93 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.128).

A vase overflowing with a bouquet of summer flowers dominates this composition. A pitcher of water stands beside a pair of gloves on the table. A woman leans on her elbow and brings her hand to her jaw. She fixes her gaze on something outside the picture frame.

The viewer has a dynamic experience when looking at this painting. At first, the abundant flowers are arresting, but once one's focus moves to the woman it is hard to turn back to the flowers.

Is this a portrait that marginalizes its human subject? Is it a genre painting with hints at a narrative? Is it a still life? Degas' painting provokes these and other intriguing questions. By placing the woman at the margin, Degas challenges the category of portraiture, which typically directs the viewer toward the sitter. By stretching the boundaries of portraiture, introducing an element of still life and a suggestion of narrative, Degas creates a painting open to a variety of interpretations.


Ask your students to write a story describing the woman in the painting. Who is she? What is she feeling and thinking? What happened before she sat down? What will happen next?

Carolyn Halpin-Healy, independent museum educator on the teaching staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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Title Annotation:GalleryCard: Interpretation; Edgar Degas
Author:Halpin-Healy, Carolyn
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Previous Article:Saint Roch, early 16th century, France, Normandy (Manche), said to have come from the cathedral at Cherbourg.
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