Woman Leaning near a Vase of Flowers Edgar Degas 1865
Oil painting on 29"x36 ½" canvas.
This oil painting by Degas contains an enormous centerpiece of chrysanthemums,
painted with natural colors and realistic detail. To the left of the arrangement is a glass pitcher
full of water. Both of these items rest on a table covered by a earthy toned tablecloth with a
muted, indistinct pattern. Most interesting, is the woman on the right of the painting. She is
leaning back toward the flowers, with her elbow on the table and her her hand curled up near her
mouth. She is looking off into the distance; contemplating or daydreaming. Her placement in
the picture seems haphazard, like it might have been an afterthought by the painter. The flower
arrangement itself has an approximate symmetrical balance, but the complete picture is
unbalanced due to the woman's placement. I am left to wonder what is the intended focus of this
painting; the woman or the vase of flowers?
I close my eyes for a moment to see what my first focal point will be when looking at this
scene. I realize that while my eyes are closed I have a more vivid mental picture of the woman
than of the flowers. Upon opening my eyes I gaze first at the center of the picture, which is
probably a conditioned response to years of viewing compositions that place the focal point near
the center. The enormous collection of chrysanthemums in a vase is colorful and soothing. The
earthy tones used in this painting calm and comfort me. I enjoy the way it beckons me to
investigate it's details. This is not a painting that SCREAMS for attention as some of the modern
art works do, with their bright, bold colors and explosive lines. This is a painting that invites
you to ponder and daydream; to relax and take in the moment. Degas used natural, earthy colors
in this painting to encourage this feeling. The same painting in darker tones would be depressing
to look at. Brighter, unnatural colors would make me anxious and I would imagine the woman
was worried. The carefully chosen palette of this painting works to produce a feeling of calm,
peace and tranquility.
I consider the difference between this painting and some of Degas other works. He is
known for his pastels featuring ballerinas and ladies bathing. Woman at Her Toilette (1903)
captures a view of the backside of a lady drying her hair after a shower. The viewer's perspective
suggests that she is unaware of you presence. She is engrossed in her task. It makes the pastel
interesting because you feel you are catching a secret glimpse of this lady's life. Woman Leaning
near Vase of Flowers would not be nearly as interesting if the woman were turned away from us.
I am captivated by the dreamy, thoughtful expression on the woman's face. I get the same
feeling from this picture that I get from Woman at Her Toilette that the subject is unaware of our
presence. She is engrossed in her thoughts. Degas uses the viewer's vantage point to enhace the
expression of the artwork.
I consider the size of the canvas: 29"x36 1/2". This is about the size I would expect to
see above a sofa or fireplace as a focal point in a room. The scale of the flower arrangement
overpowers the woman. Perhaps the collection of flowers was meant to be an illustration of the
woman's thoughts. A variety of ideas uniting into a gorgeous centerpiece. The flowers fill up
most of the space in this painting, just as the woman's thoughts overpower the space in her head.
The size of the flower arrangement indicates it should be the focus of the painting but my eyes
are continually drawn over to the daydreaming woman. A small arrangement of flowers would
not be as interesting because it's small scale would suggest that the...