9780894940736

Degas and New Orleans: A French Impressionist in America

Feigenbaum, Gail

ISBN 10: 0894940732 / 0-89494-073-2
ISBN 13: 9780894940736
Publisher: Rizzoli
Publication Date: 2000
Binding: Softcover
Editorial Reviews for this title:
Synopsis:
Edgar Degas is admired today as the quintessential artist of Paris: painter of ballet dancers, bathers, and laundresses, of the racetrack and the theater. Degas and New Orleans: A French Impressionist in America explores a different Degas in another place: a sojourner with his family in New Orleans, on the unique occasion when the subtlest and most advanced ideas of French painting alighted on the banks of the Mississippi River. Degas and New Orleans accompanies a major exhibition that reassembles most of the fascinating art that Degas created during his visit and places this work in its remarkable context of family drama and American history.

In addition to the works generally believed to have been executed by Degas in New Orleans, the book includes paintings, pastels, drawings, prints and sculpture done in Europe that reflect Degas's relationship to the city and that are specifically related in theme or style, or are very close in date. Finally, to help clarify its character, the New Orleans work is complemented by a selection of Degas's "typical" subjects, such as dancers and racetracks. Family letters, documents, heirlooms, and vintage photographs from the period help to summon forth the context of the sole visit to America by a French Impressionist.

Review:
Readers who've already encountered Christopher Benfey's mesmerizing reverie about race, class, and the Degas family in Civil War-era New Orleans, Degas in New Orleans: Encounters in the Creole World of Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable, may find some of the written material in this large art book repetitive. But the visual accompaniments to the fascinating story of Edgar Degas's New Orleans connections and the time he spent visiting that unique city in the early 1870s are all here. Readers will find an attic's worth of old mail and family photographs, as well as the sketches, drawings, portraits, and scenes Degas painted both while he was there and after he returned to Paris. The Degas family tale contains all the high drama of squandered fortunes, unpaid debts, wartime disarray, hardening racism, marital abandonment, blindness, death, divorce, and disgrace, now publicly aired in hundreds of letters and some old photographs that unwittingly reveal the sometimes pitiful effects of upper-crust insularity and inbreeding.

A caveat: all this may ultimately prove equally interesting to social historians as to art lovers. This big coffee-table book promises more visual treats than it ultimately delivers. There are some paintings of the New Orleans cotton exchange that are an important part of Degas's oeuvre and many portraits that are also well known, and the author's careful placement of these works into the context of their times and Degas's career is invaluable for art historians. But the family memorabilia that enriched the exhibition this book catalogs doesn't provide the kind of pictorial richness that made another thought-provoking Degas book, Richard Kendall's astonishing Degas and the Little Dancer, so satisfying on every level--ideally melding sumptuous imagery with enlightenment. More art, one murmurs; less life. --Peggy Moorman

Review

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