Creole Son

By

In 1872, Edgar Degas left Paris to visit New Orleans, the birthplace of his deceased mother and the current home of his brothers, cousins, and an uncle. Paris was still trying to recover from the Prussian invasion and the bloodbath following the Commune, and New Orleans was suffering from federal occupation following the Civil War. The painter encountered the city’s persistent stench and recurrent yellow fever, as well as routine political murder while the people adjusted to the end of slavery. Degas could not share or understand his relatives’ racial attitudes, but he was drawn into the battles between Radical Republicans and Crescent City Democrats, some historical and others invented. Degas found inspiration in Cybèle, a fictional mixed-race entertainer who helped him in his attempt to overcome problems of intimacy in those pre-Viagra days. She caused yearning to “pulse in his chest like a second heart,” but their relationship was complicated by the Louisiana racial codes. His nearly blind real-life cousin/sister-in-law Estelle provided insight into his artistic transformation and his own problems with loss of vision.

The author represents Edgar’s artistic sense with such similes as “He felt as lifeless as the cadaver in Rembrandt’s painting ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.’” One of the strengths of the book is a brief author’s note which clearly delineates what is fictional and what actually occurred.

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Publisher

Published

Genre
,

Period

Century

Price
(US) $18.00

ISBN
(US) 9781621341000

Format
Paperback

Pages
407

Review

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