Pastel Purchased For $1,000 Identified as Lost Degas

Auctioned online as a “fake,” the Edgar Degas brothel scene was authenticated by experts and is actually worth millions.

Jun 5, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies



In 2021, an online shopper bid on a 19th-century pastel that was listed as a “fake” Edgar Degas. After placing the winning $1,000 bid, the anonymous buyer consulted with experts to investigate the pastel’s true origins. It turned out that Éloge du Maquillage was almost certainly a known Degas composition that had long been considered missing. Now that it has been reattributed to the famous French artist, the pastel is valued at up to $13 million.


The “Fake” Edgar Degas Went to Auction with a 1 Euro Starting Price

Degas’ signature on Éloge du Maquillage (1876). Source: Consultores Rey.


The story of the $1,000 Edgar Degas pastel went public when the newly-authenticated composition was presented at the Institute Français in Madrid on May 28. Éloge du Maquillage (In Praise of Cosmetics) is a pastel-on-cardboard French Impressionist brothel scene dating back to 1876. It belonged to a private collection for nearly a century before being auctioned online in 2021 by its then-owner, an unnamed resident of Sabadell in Catalonia, who did not believe the work to be a genuine Degas.


Éloge du Maquillage was listed on the online auction platform Todocolección with a starting price of just 1 euro. While the listing noted that the pastel “bears the signature of Degas,” it also asserted the seller’s assumption that it was a “fake.” The pastel came with provenance documents that showed the pastel was purchased in 1940 by the seller’s ancestor, a known Catalan art collector named Joan Llonch Salas.


The New Buyer Hired Experts to Authenticate the Pastel

Éloge du Maquillage by Edgar Degas, 1876. Source: Consultores Rey.


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Unlike the previous owner, the online buyer thought it was worth investigating whether Éloge du Maquillage was actually an Edgar Degas original. The buyer, who has not been publicly identified, consulted with expert Michel Schulman, who authored Degas’s online catalogue raisonné. Schulman formed a research team with art historians Judith Urbano and Álvaro Pascual, as well as art consultant Juan Arjona Rey of Consultores Rey.


In addition to examining the pastel’s accompanying provenance documents, the team performed “an exhaustive analysis of pigments, a meticulous study carried out with x-rays and photographs, among other techniques,” as told to the Spanish newspaper El Pais. The experts concluded that Éloge du Maquillage was indeed created by Edgar Degas around 1876. The composition was known by historians, but the original had been written off as lost.


Labels Revealed the Edgar Degas Pastel’s Provenance

A 1939 label on the back of the Degas pastel reads “recovered from the enemy” in Catalan. Source: Consultores Rey.


Historic labels attached to the back of the Edgar Degas pastel helped experts authenticate the work and fill in the missing pieces of its provenance. Éloge du Maquillage first entered Spain with the artist Julián Bastinos, who purchased the pastel directly from Degas in Paris for 3,000 francs. This 1887 transaction was recorded in a letter from Degas to a friend. According to a label on the pastel that indicates it was professionally framed in Egypt, Bastinos brought it to Cairo in the early 1900s. After Bastinos died, the pastel was  repatriated to his family in Barcelona.


In 1934, the Bastinos family art collection—including the Edgar Degas pastel—was confiscated and stored in a monastery during the Spanish Civil War. Another label on the pastel, created by the Francoist Ministry of National Education, shows that it was “recovered from the enemy” in January 1939. The pastel was then returned to the Bastinos family, who sold it to Catalan collector Llonch Salas for 3,000 pesetas in 1940. Prior to its recent rediscovery, Éloge du Maquillage was last seen in public in 1952, when Llonch Salas loaned it to a gallery exhibition in Barcelona, as recorded by another label. The Edgar Degas pastel is now listed in Schulman’s online catalogue raisonné.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.