The Laundress (Silhouette) is an oil and pastel painting on paper mounted on board created by French artist Edgar Degas circa 1874. The painting is typical of Degas’ Impressionist style which is characterised by vivid and experimental use of colour. The work depicts a working-class woman carrying a basket of laundry, which was a common subject for Degas, who frequently explored the lives of working-class women such as laundresses and ballet dancers.
Degas’ use of shadow creates a melancholic atmosphere, and the women in the painting appear to be in a damp, cramped space. The painting uses shades of black and grey to create a silhouette of the laundress, contrasting with the light colour of the linen in the basket. Degas’ careful observation of the figure and attention to detail is evident in the folds of the woman’s skirt, the creases in her apron, and the posture of her body.
Degas was a prominent figure in the Impressionist movement, although he preferred to be called a realist. He also worked in sculpture, printmaking, and drawing, and was known for his experimentation with different mediums. The Laundresses is an important work in his oeuvre, exploring the lives of working-class women at a time when their labour was often overlooked. The painting is a testament to Degas’ ability to capture the beauty and dignity of the everyday, and his influence on the development of modern art.