A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers

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The novelty of this composition has prompted many writers to suggest that the seated woman was an afterthought. Although there remains some doubt, she is probably the wife of Degas’s school friend Paul Valpinçon. Degas immensely enjoyed his visits to their country house, Ménil-Hubert, and the presence of dahlias, asters, and gaillardias in the bouquet makes it likely that this work was painted there in August or September 1865. It was preceded by an exquisite pencil drawing of the sitter, also dated 1865. Far from representing an afterthought, her presence in the composition was deliberate and intentionally provocative. As Degas himself once said, “I assure you that no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament.”

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