The impressionist style was incompatible with Degas' meticulous paint handling and premeditated method of composing, and he preferred "independent" or "realist" to "impressionist" as the name of the movement. Degas did help establish and direct the impressionist organization, however, and participated in seven of the eight exhibitions. He selected insistently modern themes -- ballet dancers, laundresses, prostitutes, cafés and café-concerts, and racetracks -- and depicted them in numerous variations. One other recurring genre was portraiture. Degas selected family and friends as models rather than paint commissioned portraits, and his portraits are often unconventional characterizations. This portrait of Estelle Musson Balfour de Gas, the artist's first cousin and sister-in-law, was painted during Degas' 1872-1873 visit to New Orleans.
The 1871 discovery of the deterioration of his own vision sensitized the artist to Estelle's near-blindness when he visited the next year. Posture, gesture, accessories, and activities were often used by Degas to characterize the models in his portraits. Such incidental details were deliberately omitted here, a similarly informative decision. The soft focus of the painting, subdued and nearly monochromatic color harmonies, and Estelle's unfocused gaze parallel her limited visual capacity and indicate the artist's respect for Estelle and compassionate understanding of her situation.
lower right with atelier stamp: Degas
Marks and Labels
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas [1834-1917], the artist, Paris; (Degas atelier sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 6-8 May 1918, no. 97); purchased by Jacques Seligmann [1858-1923], Paris, for his private collection; (Seligmann sale, American Art Galleries, New York, 27 January 1921, no. 51); purchased by (M. Knoedler & Co., London, New York, and Paris); sold 1921 to Henry D. Hughes, Philadelphia; on consignment with (Marie Sterner Galleries); sold 10 November 1928 to Chester Dale [1882-1962], New York; bequest 1963 to NGA.
- Portraits of Women Loan Exhibition: Romanticism to Surrealism, Museum of French Art, New York, 1931, no. 11.
- The Chester Dale Bequest, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965, unnumbered checklist.
- From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, January 2010-January 2012, unnumbered catalogue, repro. (through October 2011).
- Dale, Maud. Before Manet to Modigliani from the Chester Dale Collection. New York, 1929: no. 26, repro., as Portrait in White.
- "Portraiture: Examples at the French Museum and Elsewhere." The New York Herald Tribune (25 January 1931): section VIII, 8.
- Catalogue of French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 6-7, repro. pl. XII
- French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 37, repro.
- French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1944: 37, repro.
- Lemoisne, Paul André. Degas et son oeuvre. 4 vols. Paris, 1946-1949.
- Rewald, John. "Degas and His Family in New Orleans." Gazette des Beaux-Arts VI ser., vol 30 (August 1946):115-117, repro.
- Rewald, John. The History of Impressionism. New York, 1946: 229, repro.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 154, color repro.
- French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1953: 47, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 54, repro.
- The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 10.
- Boggs, Jean Sutherland. Portraits by Degas. University of California, 1962:40-41, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 262, repro.
- Edgar Degas: His Family and Friends in New Orleans. Exh. cat. Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans, 1965:38+, repro.
- Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Paintings & Sculpture of the French School in the Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 76, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 39
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:438, color repro.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 32, repro.
- Minervino 1970, no.355.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 98, repro.
- Williams 1981, repro. 133, 137-138.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 472, no. 695, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 121, repro.
- Bernard, Bruce. The Impressionist Revolution. London, 1986:260, repro. 194.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 193, repro.
- Kelder, Diane. The Great Book of French Impressionism, 1997, no. 263, repro.
- Degas et la Nouvelle-Orléans. Exh. Cat. Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen, 1999:22, repro.
- Feigenbaum, Gail. Degas and New Orlean: A French Impressionist in America. Exh. Cat. New Orleans Museum of Art, 1999:207-208, repro.
- Southgate, M. Therese. The Art of JAMA II: Covers and Essays from The Journal of the American Medical Association. Chicago, 2001: 60-61, color repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 377, no. 310, color repro.
- Harris, Neil. Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience. Chicago and London, 2013: 246, 248, 249.