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Edgar Degas

1834 - 1917

Madamoiselle Nathalie Wolkonska, first plate by Edgar Degas

Madamoiselle Nathalie Wolkonska, first plate   1860-61

  Original etching by Edgar Degas.
Ref: Reid & Shapiro 11; Delteil 7; Adhemar 14
S 157 x 116 mm; P & I 119 x 87 mm
Original etching by Edgar Degas.

Very good impression printed with considerable plate tone, from the first published edition, printed on firm Japan paper for Ambroise Vollard in 1919.

Although Reid & Shapiro list only one state of this etching, it exists in three different states and four different printings. The first state is the finished proof state, prior to cancellation; only two impressions are known in this state prior to the cancellation lines. It is thought that Edgar Degas either mislaid this plate or put it to one side and, consequently, re-etched a similar image on a second plate (Reid & Shapiro 12). The second state is identical to the first but the plate has fine, slightly curved cancellation lines across the figure. This is apparently the state in which Ambroise Vollard acquired the plate in about 1910. The first organised printing of the plate was in 1919 when the plate was printed on firm Japan paper for Vollard (the present example is from this printing). This was intended as an edition of 150 impressions for use in the deluxe edition of Vollard’s book on Degas but, instead of being issued in this manner, they were released (along with impressions from other plates by Degas) as part of a set of 21 etchings without text or title page. Some impressions were apparently sold separately and a few were printed on heavy wove paper. According to Reid & Shapiro “The Vollard impressions from the cancelled plates are generally considered to be the best printed” (Reid & Shapiro, Edgar Degas: The Painter as Printmaker, p.265). In 1939 Henri Petiet bought the plate for this etching from the estate of Ambroise Vollard; in 1955 the plate was sold by A. Martinez of Cannes and subsequently it was acquired by the art dealer Frank Perls. In 1959 Perls had an edition printed by Lacourière in Paris on soft fibrous Japan paper deckled on two sides and with a blindstamp “Frank Perls edition 1959” at the lower righthand corner of the sheet. Between 1 and 17 impressions of each plate owned by Perls was printed for the 1959 edition. Perls then sold his Degas plates to the art dealer Heinz Berggruen. In the 1960’s four of the plates, including Madamoiselle Nathalie Wolkonska, first plate, were ‘restored’ with partial removal of the cancellation lines, steel-faced, and printed in an edition of approximately 600 impressions – virtually clean-wiped on eggshell Arches paper for International Art Club Editions. By 1984 the plate of this etching was in the Josefowitz Collection in Switzerland.

The impression offered here is from the first published edition, printed on firm Japan paper for Ambroise Vollard in 1919. It can be distinguished from subsequent printings by its distinctive plate tone and high pressure of printing, showing all of the detail of Degas’s delicate etched work. The paper and inferior impression quality of the Perls edition is quite different; whilst the edition printed after the plate was ‘restored’ and steel-faced shows only the base of the lowest cancellation lines remaining, the detailed marks of Degas’s needle having been removed from the background, clean-wiped on modern Arches paper. This impression, from the finest printing of the plate, is the only obtainable version of this etching which shows the work clearly, in its original form.

One of Degas's earliest etchings, this finely worked portrait was very lightly bitten when etched by the young artist, resulting in a beautiful delicacy in good early impressions, such as the example offered here. At this time Degas was intrigued by the inherent challenge of interpreting colour in a black and white medium. In his later years he was to reverse this process, working some of his prints up into pastels. Aside from his extraordinary popularity as a painter, Degas was to become one of the most innovative original printmakers of his generation. He created a fascinating body of artistic experimentation in etching, aquatint and monotype which includes some of the most novel original prints of the period. This portrait represents the beginning of one of the greatest careers in original printmaking of the nineteenth century.

On warm toned firm Japan paper with margins. Very good original condition.