At the Milliner (Primary Title)

Edgar Degas, French, 1834 - 1917 (Artist)

ca. 1882–1885
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 24 1/4 × 29 in. (61.6 × 73.66 cm)
Framed (Even newer replica frame from Gill and Lagodich): 35 × 40 1/4 × 4 3/8 in. (88.9 × 102.24 × 11.11 cm)

Views of fashionable women in millinery shops are a prominent theme in Degas’s work. The artist frequented these shops with female friends, including fellow artist Mary Cassatt, because it permitted him to access a feminine society of shopkeepers and their bourgeois clientele. The highly codified behaviors and routine gestures of these women combined with the variety of colors and textures of the shops’ wares provided multiple opportunities for Degas to explore unprecedented subjects and aesthetics from contemporary life.

By representing the saleswoman in At the Milliner by a mere hand plucking at a ribbon, Degas focuses the viewer's attention on the fashionably dressed customer as she assesses the merchandise. Viewed from behind, she looks at herself in the mirror as she tries on a hat. In the reflection, her face is startlingly absent, giving her the appearance of a narrow-waisted mannequin or doll dressed in fashionable attire. Whether Degas was affirming his disinterest in the unique personality of his subject or attempting to comment acerbically on the depersonalizing aspect of modern consumerism is unclear—perhaps both interpretations are valid. Nevertheless, the image is a bizarre assortment of truncated figures and denied individuality.
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon
2019-2020: "Van Gogh Monet Degas, The Mellon Collection of French Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts", Palazzo Zabarella, Padua, Italy, October 26, 2019 - March 1, 2020

2019-2021: Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Their Times: The Mellon Collection of French Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Frist Art Museum, Nashville, TN, February 2 - May 5, 2019; Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS, April 4, 2020 - January 10, 2021

2018: "Van Gogh, Monet, Degas: The Mellon Collection of French Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts", The Frick Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, March 17 - July 15, 2018; Oklahoma Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, June 22 - September 22, 2019

"Degas, Impressionism & the Paris Millinery Trade," Saint Louis Art Museum, February 12 - May 7, 2017; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Legion of Honor, June 24 - September 24, 2017.

"Degas: A New Vision," Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, October 16, 2016 - January 8, 2017
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

Curator’s Talk: The Reinstallation of the Mellon Collection

The collection of European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts given by Paul and Rachel Mellon constitute an essential facet of the museum’s identity. Dr. Sylvain Cordier, Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art, discusses the reinstallation of the Mellon Collection.

Some object records are not complete and do not reflect VMFA's full and current knowledge. VMFA makes routine updates as records are reviewed and enhanced.