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Rediscovered Degas Worth $13 Million?

June 5, 2024
A pastel drawing of a red-headed woman powdering her face.

Éloge du maquillage by Edgar Degas

In an extraordinary find, a drawing bought online for about $1,000 has been identified as an original drawing by the great Impressionist master Edgar Degas.

In a remarkable turn of events, an anonymous buyer browsing the Spanish online auction site Todocolección came across the drawing in December 2021. On a hunch, they contacted Michel Schulman, an art historian specializing in nineteenth-century French art and operator of the Edgar Degas online catalogue raisonné. They suspected that the lot might be the original drawing by Degas, leading to them purchasing the work for €926 (or $1,047 at the time). After examining the work, specialists have determined that the drawing is, in fact, an original 1876 pastel and gouache drawing by Edgar Degas entitled Éloge du maquillage, or In Praise of Makeup. It shows women powdering their faces while working at a Paris brothel.

Working with Spanish art specialists Joan Arjona Rey, Álvaro Pascual, and Judith Urbano, Schulman uncovered the drawing’s provenance. They determined that the Spanish artist Julián Bastinos acquired the work from Degas in 1887, bringing it back to Spain. The labels on the drawing’s back indicate that Bastinos had it framed while in Cairo, where he passed in 1918. The Bastinos family kept the drawing until Republican forces temporarily relocated much of Barcelona’s art collections to a monastery for safekeeping during the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939). Victorious fascist troops under Francisco Franco took possession of the Degas, as indicated by another label dated January 1939 reading “Confiscated from the Enemy”. The work was eventually returned to the Bastinos family the following year, after which they sold it to a businessman in nearby Sabadell. This man was the ancestor of the individual who posted Éloge du maquillage on Todocolección.

Schulman and the drawing’s buyer announced this rediscovery last week when they exhibited it at the Institute Français in Madrid. With its rediscovery, experts believe it may be worth €7 million ($7.6 million), with others estimating it as high as €12 million ($13.1 million).