Bequeathed to the nation by Lucian Freud.
La Masseuse (The Masseuse), a sculpture by Edgar Degas has found a permanent home at the Walker Art Gallery as part of the government’s Acceptance In Lieu (AIL) scheme, administered by Arts Council England.
Once owned by the renowned painter, Lucian Freud, the sculpture was one of three by Degas, bequeathed to the nation upon the artist’s death in 2011. La Masseuse was allocated to the Walker following a competitive process with other UK museums and galleries.
La Masseuse, which is Degas’ only two-figure sculpture (his other sculptures are solitary figures), joins the Walker’s impressive collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist work, which also features the painting Woman Ironing by Degas.
The sculpture will be displayed alongside Woman Ironing and together they explore Degas’ mastery in conveying movement and exertion. The sculpture’s attention to the physicality and wearisome work of mundane female labour is mirrored in the painting; a theme which ran through much of Degas’ works in the 1890s.
The emphasis of La Masseuse on the effects of physical activity on bare female flesh is likely to be one of the aspects that attracted Lucian Freud. In several ways Freud was Degas’ modern-day equivalent, and a number of the similarities between the artists can be seen in this work: the awkward pose, the ‘fleshy’ nude and the play of light on bare skin.
Curator of European Art, Xanthe Brooke said: “La Masseuse is a true treasure for any gallery and we are thrilled to be adding it to our collection.
“Degas’ sculptures were as ground-breaking as his paintings. He thought of them rather like his sketches or drawings, as a way of developing a composition. Displaying La Masseuse alongside Woman Ironing (the only painting from his laundresses series on public display in theUK), provides a unique insight into Degas’ genius for depicting human, and in particular female, endeavour.
“We’re very grateful to Arts Council England for allocating the sculpture to the Walker Art Gallery, where it will be appreciated by an enthusiastic and diverse audience.”
Alan Davey, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, said: “The Acceptance in Lieu scheme is a great success story for this country’s cultural heritage and for the audiences who enjoy it. The scheme has seen thousands of important pieces of art made available for public display, attracting audiences from near and far, and inspiring budding artists – just as Lucian Freud clearly enjoyed and may have been inspired by this wonderful piece by Degas.”