03/25/21 LETTERS READ: Edgar Degas

'Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando' by Edgar Degas.

A podcast of personal letters from Edgar Degas surrounding his 4-month stay in Reconstruction-era New Orleans.


Christopher Kamenstein reads as Degas. Audio production is by Steve Chyzyk and Sonic Canvas studio. The event is emceed by stationer and project director Nancy Sharon Collins.

This podcast is hosted by Pitot House and co-promoted by Alliance Française de La Nouvelle-Orléans. Letters Read fiscal sponsor is Antenna.

Join us for an intimate listen to thoughts and emotions experienced by Edgar Degas as he visits his mother’s family in the Crescent City as it strives to heal post-antebellum wounds after the American Civil War. Business, money, family, property ownership, class, race, and privilege, all play important roles in this compelling story.

In late 1872, Degas accompanied his brother René to New Orleans where he observed his paternal family’s business managing the post-Civil War cotton trade. The painting used to illustrate this online event is the oft cited depiction of his time here. It captures a moment during the decline of his uncle Michel Musson’s business, the Cotton Office. Which went bankrupt shortly thereafter.

Upon his return to France early in 1873, Edgar learned that René had also bankrupted their own father’s banking business.

It was about this time and occasioned by the family’s multiple financial misfortunes that Degas turned his trade as a serious painter into a successful livelihood.

Though Degas depicted notions of gender and class from a now problematic viewpoint, his only complete painting dealing with race and class is featured in the thumbnail image for this pos. Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando, now in the permanent collection of The National Gallery, London, was shown at the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition in Paris in 1879.

This Letters Read podcast discusses his career and his relationship with the rapidly changing world in which his life occupied. The artist Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas  was born in 1834 and died in 1917.

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