He was not yet famous when he arrived in the fall of 1872.
Edgar Degas’ sojourn in the Crescent City seems arbitrary, but the French Impressionist painter had strong Louisiana roots.
His mother, Celestine Musson Degas, was of a well-to-do Creole family in New Orleans, a descendant of some of the city’s first French and Spanish arrivals. She was moved to France as a child, following the untimely death of her mother. Celestine would never see America again.
It was her three sons who would return to New Orleans. A wish fulfilled by proxy.
Edgar was 38 years old by the time he made it to the Crescent City. From October 1872 to March 1873, the painter took residence in his brother René’s home, a stately Greek Revival on Esplanade Avenue, shared with his wife Estelle Musson.
It was a charmed neighborhood. A green strip of neutral ground cleaved the wide avenue in two. Grand homes ran up each side. Iron fences framed small territories. The columns of mansions measured out physical space like a metronome.
The street, running from the Mississippi to Beauregard Circle, was–and remains–a thing of beautiful geometry.
For five months, Edgar strolled the orange gardens, admired the faces of Creole women, feared illness on hot winds.