A brief encounter between:
'Mrs Mounter' and 'A Woman Ironing'
Harold Gilman and Edgar Degas
Harold Gilman 1876-1919, 'Mrs Mounter' 1917
Edgar Degas 1834-1917, 'A Woman Ironing' about 1895
In both these pictures a male artist has portrayed a female model that, by the classical canons of beauty, might be described as plain. It is tempting to read them as political statements about the role of women in a male-dominated society but on closer inspection it is clear that the two artists viewed their models very differently.
Degas - whose reputation for misogyny is famous - reduces his model to complete anonymity. Gilman, however, draws us into the character of his model through her costume, the tea things beside her and her direct stare and pensive expression.
What both pictures certainly have in common is their use of light: Degas paints a half-light streaming through the curtain allowing him to concentrate on the figure's silhouette through outline drawing, and also to observe subtle effects of colour such as the greenish shadow on the woman's forearm. Gilman uses a more direct light but displays enormous sensitivity in the handling of shadows and contours on his model's face.