TABLE OF CONTENTS
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), French Impressionist painter, graphic artist and sculptor, was born on July 19, 1834, in Paris, France, the eldest of five children of Augustin Degas, a banker, and Célestine Musson Degas, an American from New Orleans and an amateur opera singer. In 1855, after graduating from the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Degas enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He remained there for one year before embarking upon three years of travel and study in Italy, where he copied works by Raphael (1483-1520) and other notable Renaissance artists, while also absorbing lessons from contemporary painters such as Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) and Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). Degas returned to Paris in 1859 and for the next few years painted portraits and historical scenes in a traditional manner. After meeting fellow painter Edouard Manet (1832-1883) in 1862, Degas began to develop a disdain for the presiding art establishment and to champion more modern techniques and subject matter. By 1868 he had become a prominent member of a group of avant-garde artists that included Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Claude Monet (1840-1926), and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), who met frequently at the Café Guerbois on Avenue de Clichy to discuss new approaches to depicting the modern world. In 1873, Degas, along with Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Camille Pissarro (1831-1903), and Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), formed the Société Anonyme des Artistes, a group committed to holding exhibitions outside of the control of the all-powerful Salon. The group held eight exhibitions over the next twelve years under the Impressionist banner, with Degas participating in all but one of these shows. As an artist, Degas' main focus was the portrayal of the human figure in the context of modern urban life. He is perhaps best known for his paintings of ballet dancers and nude bathers.
Throughout his life, Degas maintained a close relationship with his eldest sister, Thérèse (1840-1912), regularly corresponding with her after she married a first cousin, Edmondo Morbilli in 1863 and moved to Naples, Italy to live with the Morbilli/Degas family. Thérèse Morbilli's marriage, though initially a happy one, was difficult. Her husband's poverty, recurrent illnesses, and subsequent death led her to rely more and more on her elder brother in Paris for financial assistance and family support. From the 1880s on, Degas also had a close friendship with French sculptor and painter Paul-Albert Bartholomé (1848-1928). In 1887, following the death of Bartholomé's first wife, it was Degas who advised the artist to give up painting for sculpture. The friends made a famous trip to Burgundy together in 1890. After Degas' death, Bartholomé organized a small exhibition of his friend's paintings and supervised Albino Palazzolo (1883-1973) in the posthumous casting of Degas bronzes. Edgar Degas died in Paris in 1917.
The collection consists of nineteen letters written by Edgar Degas, including sixteen letters sent by Degas to his sister Thérèse Morbilli, and single letters addressed to the De Mattia family, Paul-Albert Bartholomé, and an unidentified individual. In his letters to his sister Degas writes about family and friends; travels; gifts sent and received; financial aid, offered in various forms by the artist to his sister; relationships with their Italian relatives, most especially Lucie Degas; and the artist's own health problems, including his deteriorating vision. In the letter to Bartholomé, Degas describes his trip to the sick bed of his brother, Achille Degas, in Geneva. He suggests meeting Bartholomé at the Avignon train station and provides Bartholomé with his hotel address in case he needs to contact him. The letters addressed to the De Mattia family and the unknown recipient were written after Thérèse Morbilli's death in 1912.The first is concerned with funeral arrangements for Thérèse and expenses incurred; the second announces Degas' presence in Paris.
Immediate source of acquisition: The letters from Degas to Thérèse Morbilli and two additional letters (to the de Mattia family and to an unknown recipient) were acquired by the National Gallery of Canada Library from Paul C. Richards, Brookline, Massachusetts, in February 1970. The letter from Degas to Paul-Albert Bartholomé was acquired by Jean Sutherland Boggs in Paris after the war and was donated to the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives in April 2000.
Arrangement: Correspondence is arranged chronologically.
Language: Letters are in French.
Terms governing use: For permission to reproduce or publish material from the Edgar Degas Letters, a written request must be made to the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives.
Accruals: No further accruals are expected.
Related records: Information regarding the career of Edgar Degas can also be found in the Jean Sutherland Boggs fonds, National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives.
General note: For complete texts of the Degas letters held by the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives, see Michael Pantazzi, “Lettres de Degas à Thérèse Morbilli conservés au Musée des beaux-arts du Canada,” RACAR, vol. XV, no. 2 (1988), pp. 122-135.
Processed and finding aid prepared by Philip Dombowsky in 2015.
[Title of item], Edgar Degas Letters, National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives.
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