Edgar Degas in New Orleans A nonfiction by Rory Schmitt & Rosary O'Neill, Arcadia Publishing & The History Press (February 2023)
OIn February of 2023, Dr. Schmitt and Dr. O'Neill published their third nonfiction with Arcadia Publishing & The History Press, Edgar Degas in New Orleans.
Even though he’d longed to visit his departed mother’s birthplace his entire life, Edgar Degas didn’t make it to New Orleans until he was on the cusp of forty. He found the Crescent City wracked with post–Civil War devastation even as his brother plunged the family toward bankruptcy and scandal. But in the midst of turmoil, Degas still found inspiration. Indeed, Degas’ dramatic time in New Orleans led him on a new path in his work: Impressionism.
Quotes from experts that the authors interviewed: “Edgar Degas’ time in New Orleans was very important for him, as it was related to his mother, of course, that he didn’t have a chance to know very well. He didn’t speak a lot about her. But according to his niece, he was very connected with his mother. In his letters, he writes about “his” country, he says; it’s a little his country, too.. New Orleans was a very strong experience for him. He is a man of family and has always been...To me, it is very important his being connected with his family and his own history, with his mother he lost when he was young. It was also to, of course, to discover something totally new—landscapes, light. Light was of course difficult for him because his eyes were sick at that time, so he suffered from light; he writes a lot about this.” - Dr. Isolde Pludermacher, Chief Curator, Musée D’Orsay
“I thought it was just absolutely fascinating that this quintessential Parisian would come to New Orleans and have this response: “I have no idea what to paint here. I don’t understand it here, but everything is so amazing.” It was like the way that you might feel if you found yourself somehow in the rainforest of the Amazon: “I have no grip on what I’m seeing. It’s culturally so, so different.” So what Degas did was respond to family, which was familiar to him, portraying his own family. Their issues became his subjects. It was just astonishing to me that one of the greatest French Impressionist artists, one of the greatest French artists of all time, would have gone to Louisiana.” – Dr. Gail Feigenbaum, Curator, New Orleans Museum of Art 1999 Degas Exhibit
“Degas was not a tourist; he did more than twenty paintings here. He was away from his family in France for six months and not in close contact with them. In New Orleans, he discovered this civilization that was completely different than France. Everything was completely different. The atmosphere was unique. He discovered Europe was not the center of the world. He obviously was changed. I also lived ten years abroad and know how you change from living in different places in the world. Degas must have seen how things were different—the light, the way people lived, his family, their relationships.” -Norbert Soulié, French relative of Edgar Degas and Norbert Rillieux
Dr. Schmitt co-authored the screenplay, Edgar Degas: The Impressionable Years. She in working with co-writer, Rosary O’Neill, and producer, Carol Bidault. MediaFusion Entertainment is developing the film project, which chronicles the early years of Edgar Degas, and shows the seminal paintings he created in New Orleans.
A synopsis of the Degas: The Impressionable Years is included below: Edgar Degas comes to New Orleans in order to find peace for his soul. He is recovering from the bloodbath of fighting in the Commune—having thrown himself into the war to escape his feelings for his sister-in-law, Estelle, who chose his brother, Rene, over him in marriage. What he confronts is the scandal of what has happened to his three cousins, the continued racism that has blemished his family, the bankruptcy of his uncle, and the bigamous affair of his brother with his next-door neighbor in his own house. But perhaps the biggest shock to Edgar is seeing his beloved Estelle now blind, pregnant, and failing. Edgar Degas tries to salvage his family life and find a new direction for his painting and reclaim some meaning in his life. The novel exposes the scandal between Edgar Degas and his brother that kept them from speaking for ten years and led Degas to return to Paris with a new direction in his work, soon after known as Impressionism… My mission is to capture New Orleans in all its lurid sensuality and defiance, as Louisianians fight for their unique identity in an increasingly homogenized world.