Art & Design Magazine

Degas in New Orleans: Thoughts on Painters and Their Subjects

By Billlives

A few weeks ago we went to interesting lecture by art historian Marylyn Brown at Tulane. She discussed Degas' work in New Orleans and how his painting of his family's cotton market on Carondelet St. reflected global capitalism of the time. He did at least two paintings of the market. One is very tight and was designed to sell into the English art market (shown below). It is one of the most realistic in style of his work. However, the buyer went bankrupt in the cotton crash of 1873. It was sold a few years later to a museum in France. This tighter one got better response from the critics than his more impressionistic version at the Salon of 1876. This Salon occurred before the first Impressionist show.


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Degas however, liked the looser one shown below, also seen below, and considered it better art.


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His tight painting of his family's business was more of a commercial venture itself. He accurately depicts five family members in the painting. Rather than a warm family portrait, they all seem distant from each other. Ironically, the family business was going under financially as Degas painted them for his potential financial gain. But then he never seemed to have a warm relationship with any of the subjects he painted. Degas would frequently have his female subjects pose for long hours in awkward positions. He was a master artist who created great work but does not appear to be much of a humanitarian.

This raises an issue that I think about as I paint – the relationship of the artists with their subject matter. Degas had a very cold relationship with his subjects. But then as I have read, he had cold relationships with most people and never had a close relationship with a woman.

I try to only paint objects and scenes that I like. Much of my subject selections, since I moved to New Orleans, reflect my return to my original hometown. I like the food, music, and culture of the city. I paint the food that I like to eat. I paint musicians that I like to hear. Although in both cases I like more than I can paint so not one should be offended if I have not painted them. When I spent time on a Greek island, I took paints and canvas each of the three trips. I tried to bring back memories of the aspects that I liked about the island. I have warm feelings about the place.  

The same thought process goes for painting people. Some are people that I know. Most are people that I choose to paint because I like what they are doing such as playing music or participating in Carnival. As I paint, I try to think about the subject in a very positive and connected way.  Painting a subject is, to me, a way to get to know the person or objects better, at least their visual presence.

I also feel a responsibility to the subject. I often paint musicians from photos that I took at public appearances. Later if get to know them, I will show them my depiction of them. If they like it, I will offer the painting to them. I have done this with several musicians and some dancers. If they accept, and it is a painting that I like, I will simply paint another for myself. Offering the painting is a way to further establishing the connection I started when I began the painting.  

I also try to hang my paintings in places where I like to go such as restaurants and music clubs. You can currently see my paintings for sale at four locations in New Orleans. One is Willie Mae’s Uptown. It is located at 7457 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, 504-417-5424. Here is a post describing the showing at Willie Mae’s. Another is Riccobono's Panola Street CafeHere is a post describing the showing at Riccobono's. It is located at 7801 Panola Street (504 314-1810). The third is the Albert Brown Salon located at 3424 Magazine Street in New Orleans.   Here is a post about the Albert Brown show with all of the images. You can also find my work at the Salvadorian restaurant, La Macarena located at 8120 Hampson St, New Orleans, just off Carrolton Ave. at Riverbend. Here is a post on it: New Paintings Are for Sale at La Macarena, New Orleans.  The fifth, and most recent, is the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen Uptown at 615 Carrolton Ave. (504) 866-5900. I hung my second show there on April 4. Here is a post about it: New Paintings at Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. This fall I may be having a second show at Buffa’s Back Room, one of my favorite music venues in New Orleans. Here is a post on the first one: My Paintings Are Up at Buffa’s Back Room, New Orleans

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