Portraits in an Office: The Cotton Exchange, New Orleans

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Edgar Degas, Portraits in an Office: The Cotton Exchange, New Orleans, 1873. 

Edgar Degas visited family in New Orleans in 1872. His brother, René, coerced Degas to stay for a longer time then Degas imagined. During his long stay, Degas created The Cotton Exchange where he included his family within the painting. This painting was popular back in France where it was the only painting of Degas' that was purchased in the Pau Museum. 

Although it does not look like it, Degas encapsulates a moment of devastation. This scene is the exact moment when his uncle Michel Musson's cotton brokerage business went bankrupt in an economic crash. Musson is depicted in the painting near the pile of cotton, examining the cotton.  Degas' brother René is rather lazy, so it is fitting that Degas painted him just sitting and reading the paper. 

Finding out that Degas painted his family members in this piece, it became more interesting. First I thought it was boring and that Degas should stick to horses or dancers. But this painting proves that Degas has talent to spare even in the face of losing his eye sight. 

Compositionally, the painting is okay. I think the perspective is a little off, as the room does not look exact. The painting is split into thirds vertically - cut by the bookshelf in the back and Uncle Musson. The pillar on the left could be left out but I find it nice to balance the man on the right at the desk. It also serves as a painted frame to encase the people on the left more into the painting. The movement is cutting through the painting diagonally starting at the door in the back and ends at the older man sitting in the front. 

I enjoy how Degas has created a serene painting at the time of chaos. Edgar Degas has painted this in the earlier part of his career, and it shows the promise of many great works to come.

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