{ "objects" : [ { "embark_ID" : 804, "URL" : "https://webkiosk.gallerysystems.com/Objects-1/info/804", "Disp_Access_No" : "HC.P.1918.02.(O)", "_AccNumSort1" : "", "Disp_Create_DT" : "ca. 1872 - 1873", "_Disp_Start_Dat" : "1872", "_Disp_End_Date" : "1873", "Disp_Title" : "The Song Rehearsal", "Alt_Title" : "The Song Rehearsal", "Obj_Title" : "", "Series_Title" : "", "Disp_Maker_1" : "Edgar Degas", "Sort_Artist" : "Degas, Edgar Hilaire Germain", "Disp_Dimen" : "81 x 64.9 cm (31 7/8 x 25 9/16 in.)", "Disp_Height" : "81 cm", "Disp_Width" : "64.9 cm", "Dimen_Extent" : "actual", "Medium" : "oil", "Support" : "canvas", "Disp_Medium" : "oil on canvas", "Info_Page_Comm" : "Gift of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss", "Dedication" : "Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, House Collection, Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, 1940", "Copyright_Type" : "", "Disp_Obj_Type" : "Painting", "Creation_Place2" : "French", "Department" : "House Collection", "Obj_Name" : "", "Period" : "", "Style" : "Impressionist", "Edition" : "", "Related_Sibling" : [ ], "Curator" : "The Song Rehearsal 1872-73 Oil on canvas 317/8 X 255/8 in. (81 X 65 cm) Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. (H18.2) Lemoisne 331 Dated c. 1873 by Lemoisne—Jamot, years earlier, had dated it 1865—this painting has been convincingly linked to Degas’s stay in Louisiana by James Byrnes, who saw it as possibly depicting Estelle and Mathilde (or Désirée) Musson and René De Gas.1 The handling (with its smooth and fluid paint), the composition (a perspective view, from a slightly raised angle, of the corner of the room, showing a long diagonal wall and steeply sloping floor), and the light palette (white, pale yellow, salmon) all clearly link the painting to Portraits in an Office (cat. no.115). Byrnes also mentions three additional clues: the tropical plant at the left, whose thick, wide leaves are reminiscent of those in Woman with a Vase of Flowers (cat. no.112); the dress of the singer at the right, described in the 1924 Paris exhibition as “a ‘matinée’ of yellow muslin with black polka dots, trimmed with white flounces,"2 like the dresses worn by Estelle De Gas in the Washington portrait (L313, Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art) and by Mathilde Bell in the Ordrupgaard pastel (L3 18); and the piano, which could be the one René De Gas mentions in a letter to Estelle from Paris on 26 June 1872 telling her he is thinking of replacing the large Chickering with a small Pleyel3 (although this is hardly proof, since virtually all bourgeois families had a grand piano at the time). Placing this scene in New Orleans would mean ruling out the possibility that the young woman holding the score is Marguerite De Gas Fevre, the painter''s younger sister, an accomplished musician endowed with a “superb voice,” according to both Jeanne Fevre, her daughter, and more notably Louise Bréguet-Halévy, in her unpublished memoirs.4 The 1931 Paris catalogue went so far as to present the intriguing hypothesis that The Song Rehearsal is a double portrait of Marguerite, revealing “as do other experiments by the painter depicting several images of the same person in a single picture or sketch, seen from different viewpoints, the artist''s wish to capture his subject completely, to convey the fullness of her form, a tendency that was to lead him to sculpture.”5 However, the two fine preparatory drawings on large sheets of paper (cat. nos. 118, 119), which describe each singer, indicate that two different women posed for the painter. Both drawings are accompanied by small sketches showing (for the woman on the right) two very quick, barely legible views of the room and (for the woman on the left) a perspective view indicating that at first Degas placed the visible corner of the room at the right. Although the two women cannot be identified, it should be noted that the face of the singer on the left (whom Degas envisioned at one point as also holding a score) is not the same in the drawing, where it is long and thin, as in the canvas, where it is rounder and younger, quite like the face of the musician in the Detroit painting (cat. no. 110). Degas probably brought these two drawings back from New Orleans and painted—or finished painting—the picture in Paris, using another model. This would also account for the quick sketch of the piano and the chair on the right in a notebook that Degas did not use in Louisiana.6 The Song Rehearsal was not a new subject for Degas. Accustomed since childhood to musical evenings—in his own home, and somewhat later at the Bréguets—in which singing played an important role, he could not avoid being affected by this theme, which was one of the favorite subjects of painters of bourgeois family life throughout the century. As early as his stay in Italy, he had planned to paint a musical evening.7 Somewhat later (although before 1871, since Auber died in that year), he drew a scene in India ink strangely resembling The Song Rehearsal on a score of Auber''s Fra Diavolo. The drawing, whose present location we do not know, was described as a “most curious piece" in the catalogue of the sale of autographs in which it appeared in 1954.8 According to the catalogue, “these sketches seem to have been done by Degas as he listened to a performance of Fra Diavolo in a drawing room. They depict a woman singing, and next to her, a second woman, listening. Beside the two, there is a rough sketch, probably of Auber at the piano. Above these sketches, Degas wrote the following dedication: ‘Enough of Pierre/ come and see Auber. I hope to see you soon. Your friend, Degas.’” For most of Degas''s contemporaries, this subject was an opportunity to paint a rapturous singer in the confined and generally nocturnal atmosphere of a bourgeois drawing room, such as the singer in Stevens''s Song of Passion, now at the Musée du Second Empire, Château de Compiègne. Degas, however, paints a daytime scene that is both intimate and theatrical, in the clear light of a southern house. The two singers are surrounded by the enormous room with its bare walls (the admirable salmon wall topped by a dark frieze with lightly sketched motifs) and by the sofas and armchairs in their white dust covers, forming a rectangle (which Degas later opened up by changing the chaise longue in the foreground into an armchair) and marking off the scene on a dark, stagelike floor. In their passionate and dramatic duet, they affect the exaggerated, stereotypical gestures of operatic divas. PROVENANCE: Atelier Degas (Vente I, 1918, no.106 [as "Deux jeunes femmes en toilette de ville repentant un duo"]); bought at that sale by Walter Gay, for Fr 100,000. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C.; their bequest to the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library 1940. EXHIBITIONS: (?) 1918 Paris, no.11 (as "Repetition de musique"); 1924 Paris, no. 24, repr. (as "La repetition de chant"); 1931 Paris, Orangerie, no.31, pl. III (as "Double portrait de Mme Fevre, dit ''La repetition de chant''"); 1934 New York, no.4; 1936 Philadelphia, no.22, repr.; 1937, Washington, D.C., Phillips Memorial Gallery, 15-30 April, Paintings and Sculpture Owned in Washington, no.275; 1947 Cleveland, no.19, pl. XVIII; 1959, Washington, D.C.,National Gallery of Art, 25 April-24 May, Masterpieces of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Painting, no. 21; 1962 Baltimore, no.39, repr.; 1987 Manchester, no.38, repr. (color) p. 58. SELECTED REFERENCES: Jamot 1924, p. 69; Alexandre 1935, p. 153; Lemoisne [1946-49], II, no.331; 1965 New Orleans, p. 79, fig. 42 p. 82; Minervino 1974, no.361. 1. 1965 New Orleans, pp. 79-80, 82. 2. 1924 Paris, no.24. 3. Tulane University Library, New Orleans. 4. Fevre 1949, p. 56; Louise Bréguet-Halévy memoirs, private collection. 5. 1931 Paris, Orangerie, pp. 40-41. 6. Reff 1985, Notebook 22 (BN, Carnet 8, p. 133). 7. Reff 1985, Notebook 7 (Louvre, RF5634, p. 26). 8. Drouot, Paris, 23 November 1954, no.25 bis. --Jean Sutherland Boggs (Met) Woman Singing, study for The Song Rehearsal 1872-73 Pencil on buff wove paper 19 X 123/8 in. (48.3 X 31.5 cm) Vente stamp lower left Cabinet des Dessins, Musée du Louvre (Orsay), Paris (RF5606) Exhibited in Paris Vente 111:404. I PROVENANCE: Atelier Degas (Vente III, 1919, no.404. I); bought at that sale by Marcel Bing with Young Woman Standing (cat. no.119), for Fr 13, 100; his bequest to the Louvre 1922. EXHIBITIONS: 1924 Paris, no.98; 1931 Paris, Orangerie, no.112; 1935, Paris, Orangerie, August-October, Portraits etfigures defemmes, no.37, repr.; 1936 Venice, no.23; 1969 Paris, no.164. SELECTED REFERENCES: Rivière 1922-23, I, pl. 20; 1987 Manchester, fig. 56, p. 44. --Jean Sutherland Boggs (Met) Young Woman Standing, study for The Song Rehearsal 1872-73 Pencil on buff wove paper 19? x 12? in. (49 x 31.2 cm) Vente stamp lower left; atelier stamp on verso Cabinet des Dessins, Musée du Louvre (Orsay), Paris (RF5607) Exhibited in Paris Vente III: 404.2 PROVENANCE: Atelier Degas (Vente III, 1919, no. 404.2); bought at that sale by Marcel Bing with Woman Singing (cat. no.118), for Fr 13,100; his bequest to the Louvre 1922. EXHIBITIONS: 1924 Paris, no.99; 1931 Paris, Orangerie, no. 112; 1935, Paris, Orangerie, August-Octoher, Portraits et figures de femmes, no.36, repr.; 1937 Paris, Orangerie, no.75; 1955-56 Chicago, no.153; 1969 Paris, no.165; 1987 Manchester, no.39, repr. P.45. --Jean Sutherland Boggs (Met) THE SONG REHEARSAL 1872-73 Oil on canvas 31 7/8 x 25 5/8 inches Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. House Collection, HC.P.1918.02(O) Lemoisne 331 Edgar Degas made one trip to America, the only French Impressionist ever to do so. In October 1872 he traveled with his brother René to New Orleans, his mother''s birthplace, where he stayed with his uncle Michel Musson and Musson''s family. During his five-month stay, the not-yet famous Degas despaired of being equal to the task of capturing "the true character" of the New World on canvas. Nonetheless, Degas quickly established an enjoyable bond with his American family, and it was they who became the sole subjects of his artistic studies and experiments during this period. The Song Rehearsal is likely the product of Degas''s New Orleans visit. Certain elements-the tropical houseplant and white slipcovers on the parlor furniture, for example-suggest a New Orleans setting. Two unusually large, reworked pencil studies for the painting''s principal figures (Musee d''Orsay) show that Degas labored over certain figural gestures and expressions as well as over the room''s perspective. The same pentimenti in the drawings are easily visible in the painting itself. In particular, Degas reconceived the left figure, to whom he gave not only a new commanding gesture in place of the original more imploring one but also a more youthful face. Degas mostly painted out the bottom of a chaise longue, turning it into a bergère, thereby opening up the composition and deepening the perspective. The highly dramatic exchange in the painting between the two singers is intently witnessed by the otherwise indistinct figure of the male accompanist. The identity of the original models for these figures is uncertain, and any number of Degas''s family members or their friends might have served. The painting was never signed nor exhibited or offered for sale during Degas''s lifetime. Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss purchased the painting on May 7, 1918, at the first atelier sale (no.106). In order to protect their anonymity in this purchase, the record price of 100,000 francs was bid by their close friend and advisor, the American expatriate artist Walter Gay. This created some confusion in the press, and on the next day Roger Valbelle reported in the Excelsior that Gay was rumored to have made the purchase for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He added that others believed the painting was to enrich the private collection of an American woman living in France, who had sold her pearl necklace in order to acquire the master''s work. According to Hugo Vickers, Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough, recalled the atelier sale “as ''fearfully exciting'' and watched in fascination as Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, of Dumbarton Oaks, climbed ''the ladder of prices'' and bought a very good Degas. ''As her purse is castor oil, I should think it must be fat enough to draw upon,'' commented Gladys. ''Her expression during the bidding became so rapacious that it stirred even Mr. B. [Walter Berry, then president of the American Chamber of Commerce] into laughter." The next day, on May 9, Matilda Gay, the artist''s wife, wrote in her diary, "Lunched with Mildred Bliss. ...Mildred, who has just bought the famous Degas ''La leçon de musique'' through the ministrations of Walter Gay, was carrying the picture about the room in her arms like a new toy, and together she and W. G. were studying where to hang it." James Carder (Atlanta) The Song Rehearsal 1872-73 Oil on canvas 31t x 25! inches (81 x 65 cm) Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. (HI8.2) Lemoisne 331 One of the paintings Degas almost certainly brought from New Orleans unfinished and completed in Paris was The Song Rehearsal. From his second surviving letter to Tissot from New Orleans, it. is quite clear that Degas was concerned about the transportation and storage of his canvases. He was worried then about the movement of A Cotton Office in New Orleans) which on 18 February he expected to finish in two weeks. He wanted to take it to London for Tissot and potential buyers to see but, as he wrote, "it will not be possible for it to leave with me. A canvas scarcely dry, shut up for a long time, away from light and air, you know very well that that would change it to chrome-yellow no. 3. It may have been with the fragility of the paint surface in mind that Degas decided to leave two of his most charming New Orleans paintings, Le pedicure (fig. 98) and The Song Rehearsal to be finished at home. The exquisite painting The Song Rehearsal appears to have taken place in a room in the house that Michel Musson had rented on Esplanade-perhaps even, as Benfey suggests, in the parlour itself. In any case the room has the lofty ceilings, the substantial moldings, the generous doors that we expect of New Orleans mansions. The walls are a beautiful yellow, almost identical to the color of the wall in Washington''s portrait of Estelle Musson De Gas (fig. 96); the walls in both are inviting and flattering. The upholstered furniture is covered with the white slipcovers we associate with summer. A casual informality is suggested by the comfortable cushions and the red scarf thrown over the back of a chair in the foreground. The tropical plant in the corner would have been a typical New Orleans decoration. Whether the absence of pictures was characteristic or a matter of discretion on Degas''s part, we do not know, but he did complain to Henri Rouart, whose own house was full of works of art, that he would be happier about painting portraits in New Orleans "if the settings were less insipid. Whether pictures were considered desirable or not in New Orleans, a grand piano was de rigueur in such drawing rooms-and René had been looking for a smaller substitute grand piano by Payel for the one made by Chickering on his most recent European trip in 1872. Degas made drawings for the painting of the two young women singing. It is not impossible that Estelle could have posed for the singer on the right, where she wears a loose jacket that might have been intended to conceal her pregnant condition. Although we have no photographs or drawings of Estelle in profile, this, with the long nose and generous jaw, does not seem impossible. She responds to the singing of the other woman with a certain theatrical eclat. Loyrette writes of both singers, "they affect the exaggerated stereotypical gestures of opera divas.” The other drawing for the woman singing seems to be of someone older, more formally coiffed, whose dress is also more fashionably cut, and is clearly more experienced as a performer. Curiously she has been considered to be the pregnant Estelle. Degas had not as yet achieved the ease with an opened mouth that he would reveal before the 1870S were over. One of the interesting things about these robust preparatory drawings is that the two performers are considerably larger than the same figures in the painting itself. Degas made certain changes to the two singers when it came to working with paint on canvas. On the whole the positions of the figures were as they had been drawn with very few changes to the figure at the right-but there are some to the singer on the left. Although her right hand holds a small book in both the drawing and the painting, in the drawing she seems to be clutching it to her heart almost melodramatically, whereas in the painting she holds it opened and out from her body. Perhaps more significant, Degas lifted her left hand as if she is beseeching the other singer to pause. In fact there is a more intimate relationship between them dramatically than one would expect from the drawings. But the greatest surprise is that the heads of both singers have changed. They are younger and pretty. The changes in the ages of the two singers and their physiognomies support the perfectly sensible conclusion that the work was begun in New Orleans and finished in Paris. To make this even more probable, there has been a long tradition that Marguerite De Gas Fevre, the painter''s sister, had posed for both figures. And indeed the delicacy, animation, and even prettiness of the features makes this seem possible. Degas was using his sister in a genre composition in which she is playing two roles, rather than painting another portrait of her. But she was superimposed over the two women-one a cousin-from New Orleans. The remaining figure who demands speculation, although he has seldom received it, is the pianist-a shadow with a profile expressing interest and even curiosity. Benfey, in his provocative analysis of the painting, has followed Byrnes''s lead in believing him to be René. But he goes even further, believing that The Song Rehearsal is "a painting signifying the plight of his brother René, caught between the two women in his life, and cowering behind Mme Olivier and the piano that linked him with her. It is certain that René knew America Durrive Olivier before Degas''s arrival in October 1872, and that the house she shared with her husband and family faced the back of the property of the Musson house on Esplanade. There was a friendly rapport between the Olivier and Musson households and evidence that there was a strong attraction between René and America long before they eloped, but it seems out of character for Degas to have produced such a charming painting as an allegory of a relationship that was pulling his New Orleans family apart. The inclusion of a man in what otherwise is a scene of the enjoyment of leisure by two young women is a departure for one of Degas''s paintings of New Orleans, where-possibly following local custom-he kept the sexes separated. It may be significant that the other work that introduces a man into the world of women and children is Le Pedicure) which also comes from the end of that American visit and was also presumably taken back to France to be finished there. In both cases also the description of the men verges on caricature. But at least in having brought the two sexes together, while avoiding some of the dangers Degas must have observed in such relationships in his family in New Orleans, he was preparing the way for the license of Paris, which he would observe with pleasure over the next few years while he was tackling some of the most humiliating problems of his life. 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(200 x 250 cm) Musée d''Orsay, Paris (RF2210) Lemoisne 79 Family Portrait, latterly identified as a portrait of the Bellelli family, was undoubtedly the highlight of the atelier sales held after Degas''s death. It immediately stood out as the masterpiece of his early years, and is still recognized as such. At the time of his last move, on 22 February 1913, Degas had left this painting at Durand-Ruel, along with some other cumbersome canvases (see cat. no.255); there it remained, apparently in very poor condition: “It isn''t much to look at, has been very badly treated by time, and even appears not to have been given the care it should have received in the artist''s studio. It has a shabby makeshift frame, the canvas has been torn, and it is covered with an ancient coat of dust that has not been disturbed for years.” (André Michel, “E. Degas,” Journal des Débats Politiques et Littéraires, 6 May 1918) Although this was a portrait of his beloved relatives and a painting on which he had labored for several years, Degas does not seem to have regarded it with the same interest and affection he displayed for Semiramis (cat. no.29) and Young Spartans (cat. no.40). It remained hidden from the few visitors he had—perhaps rolled up in a corner of each of his successive studios. Since it is so difficult to trace the history of this work prior to its sudden appearance in 1918, there has even been some question as to whether or not Degas exhibited it at the Salon. However, it seems improbable that he would have tackled such a large painting—only The Daughter of Jephthah (cat. no.26), which he began soon after, is comparable in size—simply as a remembrance of his Florentine relatives or to thank them for their extended hospitality. He clearly hoped to have it accepted at the Salon and to make his debut with an enormous work. In April 1859, without referring specifically to the project, he wrote to his father asking him to look for a studio so that he could work on a canvas for the exhibition. The only Salon at which the painting could conceivably have been exhibited was some years later, in 1867. The catalogue for that year gives the same title, “Family Portrait,” for the two paintings Degas exhibited under nos. 444 and 445-and that was the only name by which this work was known until the scholarly research of Louis Gonse, Paul Jamot, and Marcel Guerin between the wars made it possible to identify the sitters. Unfortunately, the reviews in 1867 were even more niggardly than in 1866, when The Steeplechase (fig. 67) was exhibited at the Salon. Only Castagnary, without going into any detail, praised Degas''s "Two Sisters," which has led some to believe that he may have been referring to the Los Angeles double portrait (cat. no.65). However, two comments from a later period corroborate the hypothesis that The Bellelli Family was exhibited at the Salon of 1867. The clearest is a reference made by the critic Thiebault-Sisson, who met with Degas on several occasions. In 1879, he had a chance to see "the admirable Family Portrait of 1867" in the artist''s studio; his description is undoubtedly of the Bellelli family portrait. In January 1881, in conversation with Emile Durand-Greville, Jean-Jacques Henner (who knew Degas at the beginning of the 1860s) discussed his colleague''s early difficulties and mentioned his successive failures at the Salon: "Degas used to exhibit at the Salon. He stopped doing so because his work was badly hung and, in his opinion, the public did not pay enough attention to it, although the artists gave him the appreciation he deserved. The portrait of his brother-in-law (I believe) and his family is a great work." Despite the vague identification of the painting, Henner''s remarks explaining Degas''s bitterness and desire to renounce any sort of official career must surely refer to The Bellelli Family. It probably also explains why there were so few comments about this masterpiece: if the painting was poorly hung, it would have been difficult to see, in spite of its size. There is one other indication that The Bellelli Family was indeed exhibited in 1867: in several places (most notably in the multicolored embroidery lying on the table), the paint has developed a crackle because of hasty retouching before the canvas had had time to dry. We know from a letter Degas wrote to the Surintendant des Beaux-Arts shortly before the opening of the Salon that at the last minute the painter wanted to retouch the two works he had already sent to the Palais de l''Industrie, where the Salon was held. He was finally granted permission to remove them for three days, which he did. In his haste, Degas used a large amount of a drying agent, which mixed with the paint layer and produced blackish streaks in places. While the condition of the canvas, together with the recollections of Henner and Thiebault-Sisson, leads to the conclusion that the painting was indeed exhibited in 1867, its fate up to the time of Degas''s death in 1917 remains a mystery. Riccardo Raimondi, a Neapolitan lawyer who married one of the painter''s grandnieces, has proposed a very different history for this canvas. According to him, the painting remained at the Bellelli apartment when Degas left Florence in the spring of 1859, and was brought to Naples when the family finally returned from exile. Many years later, at the home of Giulia Bellelli-Maiuri (the little girl on the right, the painter''s cousin), the canvas fell on an oil lamp, which left holes and burns. Sometime between 1898 and 1909, after one of his trips to Naples, Degas brought the canvas back to Paris to restore it and "neglected" to return it to those who, for nearly forty years, had been its owners. This account is widely accepted, but it appears to be pure fantasy. For one thing, it is contradicted by the evidence that the work was exhibited at the Salon of 1867 and seen in the painter''s studio about 1880. Nor does it tally with the condition of the painting itself, which, as its restorer Sarah Walden confirmed in 1984, appears not to have been burned, but rather torn by some sharp object (as Andre Michel had earlier observed). Finally, the large size of the canvas would have made transportation and handling difficult. It therefore seems certain that it never left any of the painter''s studios until it was stored with Durand-Ruel in 1913. Contrary to what Raimondi and most other writers say, The Bellelli Family could not have been finished when Degas left Florence. Once again, however, unclear accounts leave room for doubt. The story begins late in the summer of 1858. Degas arrived in Florence, which he had never visited before, early in August and was staying with his uncle Gennaro Bellelli, who had been exiled to the Tuscan capital. Relations between the two were cool and sometimes difficult. Degas was bored; his only companions were the taciturn John Pradier and the English water-colorist John Bland. He was impatiently awaiting the arrival of his aunt Laura and his two cousins, who had been delayed in Naples by the death of Hilaire Degas on 31 August. As he would do in Paris the following year, Degas bided his time, copying some works by Venetian artists-Giorgione, Veronese-and (on the advice of Gustave Moreau, who was in Venice) reading Pascal''s Les provinciales, “in which regarding oneself as hateful is recommended." He was like someone who "has only himself in front of himself, sees only himself, thinks only of himself." He made little effort to hide his boredom at having to do portraits of some of his Florentine relatives. After the arrival of his aunt and cousins early in November, however, he started on what was to become, after many transformations, The Bellelli Family. This was to be not just another portrait, but a picture ("un tableau"-in a letter to Moreau, he repeated the word and underlined it). It was to be a large and ambitious work, with a wide variety of models for inspiration; in his correspondence, Degas mentions a potpourri of names including van Dyck, Giorgione, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Mantegna, and Carpaccio. He wrote of painting his two young cousins, experimenting (as in the final canvas) with tones of black and white: "I am doing them in their black dresses and their little white pinafores, in which they look delightful." Impatient letters from Auguste De Gas in Paris, awaiting his son''s continually postponed return, provide information about the work''s progress: "If you had begun the portrait of your aunt, I could understand your wanting to finish it. But you haven''t even roughed it out, and the sketch must dry for some time before you can go back and add something, or else you make a mess of it. If you want this to be good and lasting, it is unfortunately impossible for you to do it in a month, and the more rushed you are, the more your impatience will make you do'' it and redo it and thus waste time. It seems to me, therefore, that rather than begin a canvas you''ll have to limit yourself to making a drawing. Take my advice, leave your aunt a drawing that shows off your talents and then hurry and pack up your belongings and get back here." Auguste continued to send more advice-"If you have begun painting your aunt''s portrait in oil, you''ll find yourself making a mess in your hurry to finish"-as well as warnings. He was torn between wanting to be reunited at last with the son he had not seen for over two years and wanting him to finish the work he had begun without ruining it. In late December, Degas abandoned what seems to have been a double portrait, depicting only his cousins, in order to start work on a large picture. It is not clear whether he was already working on the Orsay canvas or was doing more sketches in preparation for this large work. His father wrote: "You start such a large painting on 29 December and think you will finish it by 28 February. That''s extremely doubtful. If I can give you a piece of advice, it''s to do it calmly and patiently; otherwise you run the risk of not finishing it at all and giving your uncle Bellelli good reason to complain. Since you decided to undertake this picture, you must finish it and finish it properly. I dare to hope that your habits have changed, but I admit that I have so little faith in your resolutions that it will be a great weight off my mind when your uncle writes to tell me that you have completed your painting and completed it well."In any case, Degas''s sketches were beginning to include the figure of Gennaro Bellelli, which would explain Auguste''s concern, for he knew his brother-in-law''s irascible nature. In a sketchy canvas, now in a private Italian collection, Degas depicts Gennaro standing alone behind his two daughters (fig. 35). It is not clear exactly how much work the young painter had done when, in late March 1859, he finally made up his mind to leave Florence. Certainly The Bellelli Family was not finished, since Degas made and dated another drawing of Gennaro Bellelli when he returned to Florence for a month in 1860 Cabinet des Dessins, Musée du Louvre [Orsay], Paris, RF15484, inscribed "Florence 1860"). It is unlikely that he had begun painting the huge Orsay canvas; he could hardly have done anything as large in the bourgeois apartment in the Piazza Maria Antonia, where there was no studio. The theory advanced by Hanne Finsen in the very comprehensive catalogue for the Bellelli Family exhibition (1983 Ordrupgaard) seems, in the absence of any further documentation, the most plausible. Finsen postulates that when he left Florence, Degas took with him, besides the numerous sketches he had done in his notebooks, a number of studies on separate sheets of paper (see cat. nos. 21-25)-some very detailed, such as the Dumbarton Oaks study of Giulia Bellelli (cat. no. 25)-and a compositional study in pastel, now in Ordrupgaard (fig. 36), which shows the pose and position of each figure but is noticeably different from the final painting in its treatment of the room. In the first few months after his return to Paris, it seems that Degas did not enjoy the peace of mind he needed to work on such a complex painting. He was slow to readjust to Parisian life, had no studio for several months, missed the encouragement of Moreau, who was still in Italy, clashed with his father over financial matters, was apparently very much absorbed by a brief and mysterious love affair with a Mlle Bréguet (could it have been the Louise Bréguet who was to marry Ludovic Halevy?), and was soon busy with another painting, probably suggested to him by the Peace of Villafranca, The Daughter of Jephthah (cat. no.26). He could not have made much progress with The Bellelli Family. Assuming that the Ordrupgaard pastel gives an indication of the work as Degas had planned it in 1859 and that the Orsay canvas was exhibited, after last-mlnute retouching, at the Salon of 1867, the most notable differences are in the setting: in place of the pastel''s simple arrangement (the background unbroken except for a gilt frame and an opaque mirror), Degas developed a more elaborate setting, brightening the blue wall with a sprinkling of white flowers, opening the view to another room on the left, and reflecting in the mirror the crystal pendants of a chandelier, part of a painting (apparently a racing scene,which, since Degas did not use this theme earlier, would confirm a date in the 1860s), and a door or window frame. Much later, perhaps in the 189OS, when he restored the damaged painting, Degas sewed up-or had Chialiva sew up-the tears, put a little gesso on them, and redid the badly damaged face of Laura Bellelli, at the same time retouching the faces of his uncle and cousins. An overzealous restorer, probably when the canvas was being relined before the sale, must have thought the entire work had been repainted, and scraped off Degas''s last retouchings, seriously marring the faces of Giulia and Gennaro. The Bellelli Family is not merely a group portrait, but rather, as Degas himself stressed, a "picture"-one in which he displays, to use Jamot''s felicitous words, "his taste for domestic drama, a tendency to discover hidden bitterness in the relationships between individuals...even when they seem to be presented merely as figures in a portrait." In November 1858, after awaiting her return with great impatience, Degas was reunited with his aunt Laura, clearly his favorite among his father''s sisters. The young woman''s health was fragile, and she seems to have been slightly unbalanced. In the letters she wrote to her nephew after his return to Paris, she dwelt on the sorrows of a prolonged exile, far from her Neapolitan family and in a "detestable country," and on her sad life with a husband whose character was "immensely disagreeable and dishonest." She refers constantly to the madness she thought was stalking her ("I truly believe that I will end up in a hospital for the insane") and to her imminent death, which would find her abandoned by those closest to her ("I believe you will see me die in this remote corner of the world, far from all those who care for me." "Living with Gennaro, whose detestable nature you know and who has no serious occupation, shall soon lead me to the grave"). Suffering from what could be called a persecution complex, convinced that the very heavens were utterly against her ("Am I right in saying that nothing goes my way in this world, and that even my most innocent desires are forbidden me by chance, or by I know not what fate that hounds me right to the grave?"), and plunged into despair at the slightest disagreement with her husband,.Laura found support and consolation only in the affection of her nephew. It stands to reason that, what with the “disagreeable countenance" of a bitter and always idle Gennaro on one hand and the "sad face" of a seriously neurotic Laura on the other, there must have been days when the atmosphere in the apartment was suffocating, despite the lively presence of the two little girls. Enlarged to the size of a history painting, The Bellelli Family depicts a family.drama: Laura, lost in her black thoughts, poses as if for an official portrait; Giovanna, as in the 1856 portrait (L10,Musée d''Orsay,Paris), gazes intently at the painter; Gennaro, reading by the fireplace and, to use the cruel words of his wife, "without any serious occupation to make him less boring to himself," deigns, with a show of indifference, to turn his head slightly; Giulia, in the center of the painting, is the only link between a mother and father who are visibly estranged. She sits awkwardly on her small chair, showing signs of the boisterousness and impatience to be expected in a child her age, and breaks the oppressive and solemn atmosphere. The recently departed Hilaire Degas good-naturedly surveys the entire scene: on the wall, Degas has hung his most informal image of his grandfather-here the artist is playing with a small oil he had painted some time before (L33, Musée d''Orsay, Paris), disguising it with red chalk, a gray mat, and a wide gilt frame to make it look like a "master drawing." It would be difficult to find, among paintings done at the time, a work equivalent to this masterpiece. Many diverse influences have been cited, including works by the old masters-Holbein and (especially for Laura''s pose) van Dyck, whom Degas discovered with admiration on his trip to Genoa in April 1859. There are the works of nineteenth- century artists as well, such as Ingres with his family portraits and even Courbet''s After Dinner at Ornans, which could have influenced the overall composition. However, as Daniel Schulman points out in a forthcoming publication, Degas''s picture may be closest to Daumier; the composition is strikingly similar to that of an 1837 caricature by Daumier entitled A Man of Property (fig. 37).The group formed by Laura and her two daughters is reminiscent of Goya (whom Degas must have discovered through Bonnat) and his Family of Charles IV (fig. 38). It also recalls Bonnat and his portrait Mother Bonnat with Two Orphans (fig. 39), painted in the 1850S. Bonnat''s picture too plays with tones of black and white and with the monumentality of its protective figure who, like one of the Virgins of Mercy, looks after waifs and strays. But Degas sets himself apart from Daumier by the large scale of his canvas and from Bonnat by the complex arrangement of his interior scene. This remote and difficult painting, "conceived, painted, and presented without any desire to please and without the slightest concession to the taste of the average viewer," thus remains unique in the painter''s oeuvre and unique among the works of his contemporaries. This explains the universal astonishment caused by its appearance after Degas''s death and its immediate purchase by the Musée du Luxembourg. The enormous price that the French National Museums paid to acquire it before the atelier sales provoked an animated response from the press, giving the diehards a chance to let fly. "The family portrait, "said Sâr Péladan, "is as dull as a Flemish interior, although the dry technique is distinctive. ...400,000 francs for the Degas family portrait! And what a ballyhoo over this name! It is certainly not at all sincere." A "Fevre nephew," during the difficult negotiations with the museums, even went so far as to maintain that "it was not one of his uncle''s better paintings." Although the critics were obviously baffled by a work they did not know how to approach, the admiring reviews carried the day. These were especially favorable and emotional because, in a country still at war, the profoundly French character of The Bellelli Family was not unnoticed, François Poncetton asked that it be hung in the Louvre next to the Pietà of Avignon: "The faces of the woman and of the children have the same grave quality we so admire in the calm, radiant faces of the donors. This modern primitive renews that gentle tradition." Paul Paulin, an old friend of Degas''s, felt the same way, and, running out of superlatives, in his enthusiasm he mixed together some very illustrious references: "This work should be in the Louvre. It is so beautiful and personal; it definitely reminds one of Ingres, but it is pure Degas; the litde girl''s slender leg is inspired, and the woman''s face recalls Holbein as well as Ingres. " Jean Sutherland Boggs (Met) Giulia Bellelli, study for The Bellelli Family 1858-59 Essence on buff wove paper mounted on panel 15 1/8 x 10½ in. (38.5 x 26.7 cm) Signed lower right in crayon: Degas Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. (H.37.12) Lemoisne 69 PROVENANCE: Manzi collection, Paris (Manzi sale, Galerie Manzi-Joyant, Paris, 13-14 March 1919, no.32, repr.). Dikran Khan Kelekian, New York (Kelekian sale, American Art Association, New York, 30-31 January 1922, no.101, repr., bought in through Durand-Ruel, at $2,900). Robert Woods Bliss, 1937-40; gift of Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss to Harvard University, for the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, November 1940. EXHIBITIONS: 1921, New York, Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, 26 March-24 April, Paintings by Modem French Masters, no.74; 1924 Paris, no.21, repr. p. 215; 1931 Paris, Rosenberg, no.51; 1934 New York, no.4; 1936 Philadelphia, no.59, repr.; 1937, Washington, D.C., Phillips Memorial Gallery, 15-30 April, Paintings and Sculpture Owned in Washington; 1938, Washington, D.C., Museum of Modern Art Gallery, 22 February-20 March, Portraits of Children; 1940, Washington, D.C., Phillips Memorial Gallery, 7 April-1 May, Exhibition of Great Modern Drawings, no.36; 1947, San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 8 March-6 April, 19th Century French Drawings, no.89, repr.; 1958-59 Rotterdam, no.33, repr. (color), in Paris and New York no.159, pi. 152; 1962 Baltimore, no.30; 1983 Ordrupgaard, no.33, repr. (color). SELECTED REFERENCES: Collection Kelekian: tableaux de I''ecole fran(aise moderne, Paris, 1920, repr.; Lemoisne [1946-49], II, no.. 69; Boggs 1955, p. 131, fig. 11; Minervino 1974, no.141. Jean Sutherland Boggs In July 1858, Degas began a nine-month visit to Florence with his paternal aunt Laura Bellelli, her husband, and their two daughters, Giovanna and Giulia. In letters written during this visit, Degas expressed eagerness to begin a major work, for which he soon began preparatory studies. On November 27 he wrote enthusiastically to Gustave Moreau, "I am doing [the girls] in their black dresses and their little white pinafores, in which they look delightful." On December 29, Degas began work on the canvas that was to become his first masterpiece, The Bellelli Family, now in the Musee d''Orsay. Back in Florence in the spring of 1860, Degas was still at work on the painting and did several more preparatory drawings. The Dumbarton Oaks study, Giulia Bellelli, is the most complete and perhaps the last of the several single-figure studies of her for the painting. In this drawing Giulia sits on the front of a chair in a provocative pose, both defiant and petulant. Placed in the center of the finished painting, she serves as a link between the estranged parents. In his letter to Moreau, Degas described Giulia as having "some of the spirit of a demon and some of the goodness of an angel." Giulia Bellelli entered the collection of Michel Manzi sometime before 1919, when renowned antiquarian Dikran Kelekian purchased it. Beginning in 1913, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss had acquired scores of antiquities from Kelekian''s New York City gallery. As Kelekian was also known as a connoisseur of modern French art, in 1937-38 the Blisses turned to him for several important Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, including the Degas drawing. At this time the Blisses were beginning negotiations to convey their Washington, D.C., property and its collections, library, and gardens to Harvard University to establish the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, which occurred in November 1940. It is clear that the Blisses, conscious of the humanist legacy they were creating, desired additional important artworks, even at this crucial juncture in their collecting history. Correspondence between the Blisses and Kelekian highlights the calculated maneuvers that typified most of their art purchases. Kelekian almost always had "another seriously interested buyer" for pieces the Blisses found interesting, and the Blisses often held pieces for long periods without commitment, even releasing their hold on them, only later to buy them at more advantageous prices. The drawing Giulia Bellelli was purchased together with an ancient Egyptian ivory statuette, for which the original combined asking price in 1936 was $37,500 but which Kelekian sold to the Blisses on April 9,1937, for $20,000. On that date Kelekian wrote to Robert Woods Bliss: I am glad that you acquired these two exceptional pieces. I sold them to you at your price for three reasons: first, because you and Mrs. Bliss liked them and I wanted to please you; second, I wanted to have the pride of seeing two other most important objects added to your collection containing already several other first class objects purchased from me; and third, I wanted to hurt myself by making a sacrifice on the price so that I should remember the hardship caused to me by relatives towards whom I had been generous [he was at the time involved in litigation with his nephew]. However, I am a good sport and can stand losses. My only wish is that, since you have such good taste and knowledge, you should not pay attention to the advice of ambulant, so-called experts who are far from being disinterested. James N. Carder ", "Images": [ { "ImagePath" : "https://webkiosk.gallerysystems.com/Media/images/HC.P.1937.12.(E).JPG", "ThumbnailPath" : "https://webkiosk.gallerysystems.com/Media/Thumbnails/HC.P.1937.12.(E).JPG", "PreviewPath" : "https://webkiosk.gallerysystems.com/Media/Previews/HC.P.1937.12.(E).JPG", "IIIF_URL": "http://iiif.gallerysystems.com/HC.P.1937.12.(E).JPG", "IsPrimary" : "1", "_SurrogateID" : "21651", "Image_Type" : "", "Photo_Credit" : "", "Remarks" : "", "View" : "" } , ] }, ] }