{ "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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