During Edgar Degas’ brief stint in New Orleans, the artist opinion of the city changed dramatically. He was originally bored by the city and expected to do nothing productive while here. But by the time he had left, he had painted his first great impressionist work.
At the time an unrecognized artist, Degas came to New Orleans in 1872 to visit his brother, Rene’ and his mother’s family, the Mussons. He stayed at his uncle’s home on Esplanade Avenue for five months.
New Orleans influenced Degas from birth. His mother, Celestine Musson Degas, was born in New Orleans into a Creole family comprised of some the city’s original French and Spanish settlers. Degas was further impacted during his visit to New Orleans, which was then in the middle of Reconstruction.
While here, he painted A Cotton Office in New Orleans, a family portrait of sorts, in his uncle’s cotton office. The painting appeared in the second Impressionist show in Paris in 1876 and cemented Degas as one of the original artists of that movement. He also created works including The Song Rehearsal, which features the stylistic references to Degas’ future works.
Today, Degas’ tenure in New Orleans is still evident. He uncle’s former house has been made into a Degas museum and bed and breakfast, a café on Esplanade Avenue carries his name, and the New Orleans Museum of Art permanent collection includes some of Degas’ work.