Etchings from a 19th century book of French short stories by writer Ludovic Halévy and two copies of the rare book will be on exhibit Jan. 21-Feb. 28 in Special Collections and Archives of the Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell Library. 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 They remained unpublished until 1938 when Marcel Guérin, David Weill and publisher Auguste Blaizot formed a consortium to purchase the lot at auction.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.
From a commentary:
Degas made the monotypes to illustrate Halévy's book, La Famille Cardinal, a satire of social-climbing ballet dancers, controlling stage mothers and the backstage sex-trade. Hoping to illustrate a new edition of the book, originally published in 1872, Degas created a collection of monotypes inspired by the story in the early 1880s. Since Halévy narrated the book in the first person, Degas included him in nine of the illustrations. Theodore Reff suggests that Halévy did not publish his friends monotypes because, "On the whole, Degas' illustrations are more a recreation of the spirit and ambience than authentic illustrations".
More about the collector, Héloïse B. Levit, and the collection, with images
"Conversation — Ludovic Halevy Talking to Mme Cardinal in the Dressing Room," etching made from a monotype by Edgar Degas. Collection of Heloise B. Levit
"The Cardinal Sisters Talking to Admirers," etching made from a monotype by Edgar Degas. Collection of Héloïse B. Levit
"Monseur Cardinal About to Write a Letter," etching made from a monotype by Edgar Degas. Collection of Héloïse B. Levit
"An Admirer in the Corridor," etching made from a monotype by Edgar Degas. Collection of Héloïse B. Levit
Pauline and Virginie Conversing with Admirers
Seated Man and Dancer