Edgar Degas’ The Bellelli family, France, 1858-1869
Degas was one of the first artists to deliberately move away from the depiction of historical subjects, choosing instead to focus on scenes of contemporary life, escaping the conformism of the period. This painting is a family portrait: the mother, Laura, Degas’ Aunt, stands beside her two daughters. The husband, the baron Bellelli, is sitting slightly apart. The baroness is in mourning dress for her recently deceased father, Hilaire, whose redline portrait hangs just next to his daughter’s face. She exudes an impressive sense of dignity and somewhat severe authority. The baron was an Italian patriot, banned from Naples, who lived in exile in Florence. Correspondence from Laura explains her attitude on the canvas: she wrote to her nephew that her husband was an “immensely disagreeable and dishonest man”.