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.