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Book illustrations by Degas on view through Feb. 28

January 15, 2014

Visitors will find a touch of 19th century French society and culture on the fourth floor of James Branch Cabell Library with "Edgar Degas: The  Etchings for La Famille Cardinal" from the Collection of Héloïse B. Levit.

Etchings from a 19th century book of French short stories by Ludovic Halévy and two copies of the book will be on exhibit Jan. 21-Feb. 28 in Special Collections and Archives. The 20-plus etchings offer a look at French society and Paris street and night life through the work of an Impressionist master.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) is best known as an observer of modern Paris life. From an aristocratic family, he belied his pedigree when he was backstage at the Paris Opera, sketching the young, ballet dancers in the chorus line. Degas is also known for scenes of Paris racetracks and horses, restaurant interiors, cabarets and cafés, brothels and prostitutes and, above all, his portraiture, with its searing delineation of social class.

Degas' close friend, writer and librettist of Carmen, Ludovic Halévy, documented Paris backstage activity in short stories gathered into one volume called La Famille Cardinal. Degas illustrated these fictional adventures of Pauline and Virginie Cardinal and their parents. Halévy, however, failed to recognize the greatness of these monotypes. They remained unpublished until 1938 when Marcel Guérin, David Weill and publisher Auguste Blaizot formed a consortium to purchase the lot at auction. The monotypes were then reduced and reproduced by the photogravure process in 1938 and used in the book. The etchings are important because many Degas monotypes have vanished.  

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"Edgar Degas: The Illustrations for La Famille Cardinal" from the Collection of Héloïse B. Levit opens for public viewing Tuesday, Jan. 21 during Special Collections and Archives normal 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. operating hours. Partners in the exhibition include The Alliance Française de Richmond, Chapitre Rochambeau and Pi Delta Phi, the VCU French Honor Society. French Professor Patricia Cummins' 19th Century French literature students are studying the short stories Degas illustrated.



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