Edgar Degas traveled from Paris to New Orleans during the fall of 1872 to visit the American branch of his mother's family, the Mussons. This war-torn, diverse, and conflicted city elicited from Degas some of his finest paintings. He arrived at a key moment in the cultural history of this most exotic of American cities, still recovering from the agony of the Civil War. This decisive period of Reconstruction, in which his American relatives were importantly involved, was also the time when the American writers Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable were beginning to mine the resources of New Orleans culture and history.
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Christopher Benfey is art critic for Slate magazine and Associate Professor of English/Chair of American Studies at Mount Holyoke College. He is the author of The Double Life of Stephen Crane (1992) and Emily Dickinson and the Problem of Others (1984). He is the recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships.
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