History And Context
Melancholy, a portrait of an unidentified woman, demonstrates Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas’s tremendous talent for effectively portraying mood in his sitters. The source of the painting’s title is unknown , and it has been stated that the artist, in his general preference for depicting “formal calm” over “interior life” would have chosen a neutral title for the work, for example Portrait of a Young Woman or Woman Leaning on a Chair. At this early point in his career, however, when he was closely examining human nature through portraiture, Degas may have intended melancholic emotion to be a dominant theme. In it, Degas produced a compact, balanced image that evokes quiet intimacy and solemnity, as well as suffering.
Duncan Phillips often hung Melancholy in his smaller galleries with other French painters of similarly intimate themes – for example Bonnard’s Woman with a Dog and Vuillard’s Woman Sweeping which perpetuate the contemplative spirit of Melancholy.