Overview

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.

Inscription

lower right with atelier stamp: Degas

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

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.

Exhibition History

1931
Portraits of Women Loan Exhibition: Romanticism to Surrealism, Museum of French Art, New York, 1931, no. 11.
1965
The Chester Dale Bequest, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965, unnumbered checklist.
2010
From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, January 2010-January 2012, unnumbered catalogue, repro. (through October 2011).

Bibliography

1929
Dale, Maud. Before Manet to Modigliani from the Chester Dale Collection. New York, 1929: no. 26, repro., as Portrait in White.
1931
"Portraiture: Examples at the French Museum and Elsewhere." The New York Herald Tribune (25 January 1931): section VIII, 8.
1941
_Catalogue of French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 6-7, repro. pl. XII
1942
_French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 37, repro.
1944
_French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1944: 37, repro.
1946
Lemoisne, Paul André. Degas et son oeuvre. 4 vols. Paris, 1946-1949.
1946
Rewald, John. "Degas and His Family in New Orleans." Gazette des Beaux-Arts VI ser., vol 30 (August 1946):115-117, repro.
1946
Rewald, John. The History of Impressionism. New York, 1946: 229, repro.
1952
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 154, color repro.
1953
_French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1953: 47, repro.
1956
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 54, repro.
1960
_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.
1962
Boggs, Jean Sutherland. Portraits by Degas. University of California, 1962:40-41, repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 262, repro.
1965
_Edgar Degas: His Family and Friends in New Orleans. Exh. cat. Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans, 1965:38+, repro.
1965
_Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Paintings & Sculpture of the French School in the Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 76, repro.
1965
_Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 39
1966
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.
1968
_European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 32, repro.
1970
Minervino 1970, no.355.
1975
_European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 98, repro.
1981
Williams 1981, repro. 133, 137-138.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 472, no. 695, color repro.
1985
_European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 121, repro.
1986
Bernard, Bruce. The Impressionist Revolution. London, 1986:260, repro. 194.
1992
_National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 193, repro.
1997
Kelder, Diane. The Great Book of French Impressionism, 1997, no. 263, repro.
1999
_Degas et la Nouvelle-Orléans. Exh. Cat. Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen, 1999:22, repro.
1999
Feigenbaum, Gail. Degas and New Orlean: A French Impressionist in America. Exh. Cat. New Orleans Museum of Art, 1999:207-208, repro.
2001
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.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 377, no. 310, color repro.
2013
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.

Technical Summary

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