Personal Life

Edgar Degas, Au Café(later called L'Absinthe) 1875–1876

Edgar Degas, Au Café(later called L'Absinthe) 1875–1876, oil on canvas, 92 cm × 68 cm, Musée D’Orsay

Degas’ career was interrupted for several years by the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. He enlisted to serve in the military. But in 1871, Degas moved to Normandy, and he was not affected by the Paris Communeinsurrection. Shortly after this, Degas visited his family in New Orleans, where they were involved in the cotton trade. At about this time, Degas began to notice his eyesight deteriorating. He suffered from a scotoma which occasionally obscured his central vision, caused a sensitivity to bright daylight, and produced color distortion. By the 1880s, his vision became more seriously impaired. It progressed to almost total blindness by the early 1910s. Degas worked as long as he could, shifting to more tactile mediums like sculpture and pastel in his later life.

Poor financial decisions by his family left Degas in dire financial straits in the mid-1870s. Degas was forced to make a living from his art for the first time when, after his father’s death, he found his family was in debt. Degas’ brother abandoned a disabled wife and his children. Another brother of Degas shot a former mistress's husband and was jailed. Degas supported both of his brothers by churning out popular works, and he even painted fans. He spent many years slowly paying off his family’s debts.

In 1870, Edgar De Gas officially changed his surname to Degas.

Edgar Degas, A Cotton Office in New Orleans, 1873

Edgar Degas, A Cotton Office in New Orleans, 1873, oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Pau, Pau, France