"The Country for Men with Nerve"
DEGAS AND NEW ORLEANS
A French Impressionist in America
Edgar Degas arrived in New Orleans in 1872, seven years after the end of the American Civil War, and only one year after the savage Communard civil uprising in Paris. And yet, much more than Paris, New Orleans was a city crippled by war and still in convalescence. Degas had expected to see the dynamism of the New World. His brother, René, had described the United States as "the country for men with nerve," and Edgar was looking forward to the bracing American freshness. Instead, his experience was more like coming from a big French city to a smaller one----to the seeming emptiness of so-called busy streets; to the disconcerting presence of hungry freedmen going aimlessly up and down like an army perpetually on leave; to a preoccupation with the agronomy of the hinterland. Paris, for all its sanguinary lapses, remained a world capital with a population of two and a half million. New Orleans was a once-important city of less than two hundred thousand where Degas, in one of his apt phrases, observed that "the perfume of the past has not quite evaporated." He had left a new metropolis for the genteel shabbiness of a place where everything, including patience, had worn out.
In this fourteen-page chapter (illustrated and with endnotes), Christina Vella describes a defeated New Orleans, its cotton industry, its high and low society, and its dispirited businessmen who lived by and for cotton. Degas worked on some of his most famous paintings in New Orleans, using his relatives as models: his blind cousin Estelle Musson, his nieces, and his own brothers. His most notable of these works was The Cotton Office in New Orleans. Christina Vella describes who the models were and what each of the figures in the painting are doing, from Michel Musson, the old man in the foreground "grading" raw cotton samples, to Degas' brother Achille who will later shoot a man in Paris, to his other brother René, who will soon desert his blind wife and their children to run off with someone else's wife and family.
Dr. Vellsa's works are distributed locally by Octavia Books
513 Octavia Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
Autographs and personal dedications are available on request.