The stunning beauty of Degas' Breakfast after the Bath greets the visitor in the entrance hall of the Hays' New York apartment. Degas produced several versions of this intimate early morning scene of the mistress taking a bath attended by her maid. This complicity with his model transformed by the radiance of pastel can be found in two other drawings illustrating the artist's favourite themes: Dancer combing her Hair and Woman Sponging her Back. This intimacy is also found in the graphic works of Georges Lemmen (1865-1916), a Belgian Impressionist painter influenced by Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, who moved towards Symbolism while adopting a pointillist technique. His portraits of women in a domestic setting express a melancholy that is also apparent in Manet's The Seamstress as she leans over her sewing.
Several of the paintings and pastels in the Hays collection feature groups of men and women or portraits of single figures in a garden or cozy interiors. These are the wealthy aristocrats and bourgeois of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Particular attention is given to their elegant clothing, the dignified pose and the beautiful settings that combine to capture the very essence of this social elite, who often seem to be absorbed in their own thoughts.
Paul Helleu, a fashionable portrait artist, adopted a refined style that earned him many commissions. His Portrait presumably of the Princesse de Ligne, anticipating the heroines of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, is a symphony in white major, a triumph of restraint and sophistication. A pastel portrait by Jacques-Émile Blanche, a friend of Helleu, is probably of the painter Charles Laval, a close friend of Gauguin who died at the age of 33.