We look into what appears to be a woman's bedroom with two human figures. The wallpaper design of pastel colored flowers and a delicate lampshade similarly decorated give the room a feminine appearance. A single-width bed covered in a white bedspread is set against the far corner of the right-hand wall, projecting almost at right angles to the viewer. The head of the bed abuts this wall, a pillow propped up against the bedstead.

At the foot of the bed, toward the right foreground of the painting, a coat is thrown over the metal bedpost frame. In the right foreground is a closed door against which leans a bearded man, his trouser legs spread apart, hands in his trouser pockets; he wears a dark jacket and a collared shirt. His shadow looms behind him, large against the door. The shadow is generated by the single small lamp set upon a small round table near the center of the room.

Also on the table is an open suitcase-like case, possibly a sewing box (p. 674 of reference below); a light colored cloth or piece of clothing hangs partially out of it. Small implements are strewn on the table -- a scissors is among them. On the floor next to the table lies another piece of cloth or clothing (said to be a corset, p. 674).

Turned bent away from the man, partially kneeling on the floor at the other side of the room, is the other human figure in the painting -- a young woman whose left shoulder and upper back are bare, the short sleeve of her white dress (nightgown?) hanging off her shoulder. She clutches to her body a blanket or drape. In contrast to the man, who stands in semidarkness, the woman's back is bathed in the light of the nearby lamp. The expression on the woman's face is difficult to discern.


Degas's brilliant rendering of perspective pulls the viewer into the mystery of what has taken place/is taking place in this room. We don't know how to look at this scene, much less how to interpret it. Our eyes want to take in the entire room and its two figures while at the same time we are drawn to look at the man near the foreground of the picture, who in turn inclines us to look at the young woman although it is not clear that the man is even looking directly at her.

Early 20th-century critics interpreted "Interior" as depicting the aftermath of a rape and suggested it was inspired by an Emile Zola tale. Hence the work is often referred to as "Interior (The Rape)." While one might imagine and agree with such an interpretation, it is not a foregone conclusion that such an event is represented here. The human drive to narrativize and seek meaning in what is seen (and experienced) can lead to misinterpretation. For an informative discussion of this painting, see "Resisting Narrative: The Problem of Degas's "Interior" by Susan Sidlauskas, in The Art Bulletin, vol. 75, pp. 671-696, 1993.

Degas's The Glass of Absinthe and Walter Sickert's Ennui make interesting companion pieces with "Interior." These paintings of psychological exploration and social commentary broke new ground in art (see this database for annotations).


Painted 1868 or 1869

Primary Source

Philadelphia Museum of Art