St. Louis museum pays $10 million for Degas work

Thursday, September 13, 2007
The St. Louis Art Museum recently purchased Edgar Degas' painting "The Milliners," shown above, for about $10 million, making it one of its most expensive works. (St. Louis Art Museum)

ST. LOUIS -- A work by French artist Edgar Degas is the latest addition to the St. Louis Art Museum -- and one of the most expensive.

"The Milliners," painted sometime around 1898, went on view Wednesday in the impressionist galleries at the museum in Forest Park.

Art museum spokeswoman Kendra Gramlich said the museum paid about $10 million to purchase the painting from Blondeau Fine Arts Services in Switzerland. Funding came through a combination of private donors, endowment funds, money raised selling other art and proceeds from the museum shop and support groups.

The painting was first sold after Degas died in 1917 and has been privately owned until now.

Museum officials say "The Milliners" is important because it was part of a series the artist launched at the height of Impressionism.

The St. Louis museum has an extensive collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century art, including works by Cezanne, Gaguin, Matisse and Picasso. Other items by Degas at the museum include two pastels, three drawings, nine prints and two sculptures.

Until now, the museum lacked an oil painting by Degas.

"The acquisition of this painting not only fills a major gap, it transforms our holdings of French painting of the late 19th and early 20th centuries," museum director Brent Benjamin said. "It is rare to be presented with the opportunity to acquire a painting of this superb quality. This work is an extraordinary addition to what is already a major strength of the St. Louis collection."

"The Milliners" features two female figures and a prominent feather arching between them as they decorate a yellow hat with streaming ribbons.

Degas often explored milliners -- working-class women who made or sold women's hats -- starting in the late 1870s and into the early 20th century. The St. Louis museum said he produced more than 20 works on the milliners theme in pastel and oil.

"In this work, as in his depictions of dancers, bathers and ironers, Degas displays empathy toward his subjects," said Charlotte Eyerman, curator of modern and contemporary art. "Degas, like the milliners he represents, uses humble raw materials to create something spectacular."

Admission to the St. Louis Art Museum is free except for the featured exhibition, which is free on Fridays.

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