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Impressions of New Orleans with a visit to Degas House

Degas House decked out for the holidays.

As an art historian, I always seek to explore the many facets of our artistically and historically rich city. Upon hosting my family for our first Christmas in New Orleans, we indulged my artistic tendencies and went to the Degas House.

The Degas House, which doubles as a bed and breakfast and a museum, was the home of the Impressionist Master Edgar Degas’ Creole-American family, the Mussons. Degas, who was the only Impressionist to visit the United States, came to stay with his family in 1872-1873 during what proved to be a turning point in his career.

While in New Orleans, Degas developed his Impressionist style — the artist is known for his paintings and drawings of Parisian ballerinas, which approach ballet rehearsals and performances at the Palais Garnier from invasive and irregular angles, as well as his café scenes portraying the desolate lives of the downtrodden members of turn-of-the-century Parisian society. Rather than depicting the picturesque scenery of New Orleans (something I think his fellow-Impressionist and oft-rival Claude Monet and other en plein air artists would have been unable to avoid doing), Degas painted A Cotton Office in New Orleans (1873), featuring a scene from his uncle’s cotton office, He also created such works as The Song Rehearsal (1972-3) depicting scenes from his life and experiences with his cousins. Evidence of the early evolutions of Degas’ signature ballerinas, racehorses, and bathers can be seen in the artist’s depictions of “reality” and undercurrents of social turbulence in New Orleans.

Breakfast at Degas House

While many of the Degas reproductions that hang on the walls of the Degas House fail to convey the essence and aura of this esteemed artist’s work, the overall ambiance is authentic and left me feeling that Degas might waltz through the doors at any time. The Degas House hosts a breakfast and guided tour for non-guests. The food was delicious with generous portions — we ordered waffles and French toast, both served with sides of bacon, eggs, coffee, and either a Mimosa or Bloody Mary — and cost only $20 a person.

Degas House

Because the dining room where the bed and breakfast guests sit was full, we were seated in the parlor amidst a piano, Degas paintings, and a Christmas tree lit up for the holidays. The atmosphere of the house and this room sparked fascinating conversations about Impressionism, art, Christmas traditions, and Antebellum and Reconstruction New Orleans, as well as some rather interesting speculation about Degas’ and his brother’s relationships with their female cousins.

The Degas House remains a charming historical asset of the city, providing a thought-provoking experience and insight into the life of one of the most celebrated Impressionist artists. It is a testament to the rich Creole and French heritages and artistic traditions at the root of New Orleanian culture and to their influences on the cultural Zeitgeist of the past and present.
Brianna Smyk has an M.A in Art History from San Diego State University. She lives and works in New Orleans and writes about arts and culture for NolaVie. Read more of Brianna’s articles at www.beingbreezie.tumblr.comFor more about NolaVie, go to


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