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Degas and the Dreyfus Affair – Tablet Magazine

Degas and the Dreyfus Affair – Tablet Magazine

At the time of the Dreyfus affair, many members of the inventive avant-garde took sides: Monet and Pissarro, with their previous good friend and supporter Zola, have been Dreyfusard, or pro-Dreyfus, as have been the youthful radical artists Luce, Signac, and Vallotton and the American Mary Cassatt; Cézanne, Rodin, Renoir, and Degas have been anti-Dreyfusard. Monet, who had been out of contact with Zola for a number of years, however wrote to his previous good friend two days after the look of “J’accuse” to congratulate him for his valor and his braveness; on 18 January, Monet signed the so-called Manifesto of the Intellectuals on Dreyfus’ behalf. Regardless of the incontrovertible fact that at the outset of the affair many anarchists have been unfavorably disposed towards Dreyfus—a military officer and rich in addition—Pissarro, who was an ardent anarchist, however shortly turned satisfied of his innocence. He too wrote to Zola after the look of “J’accuse,” to congratulate him for his “great courage” and “nobility of … character,” signing the letter, “Your old comrade.” Renoir, who managed to maintain up with a few of his Jewish buddies like the Natansons at the peak of the affair, however was each an anti­-Dreyfusard and brazenly anti-Semitic, a place clearly linked to his deep political conservatism and worry of anarchism. Of the Jews, he maintained that there was a purpose for his or her being kicked out of each nation, and asserted that “they shouldn’t be allowed to become so important in France.” He spoke out towards his previous good friend Pissarro, saying that his sons had did not do their army service as a result of they lacked ties to their nation. Earlier, in 1882, he had protested towards displaying his work with Pissarro, sustaining that “to exhibit with the Jew Pissarro means revolution.”

None of the former Impressionists, nevertheless, was as ardently anti-Dreyfusard and, it will appear, as anti-Semitic as Edgar Degas. When a mannequin in Degas’ studio expressed doubt that Dreyfus was responsible, Degas screamed at her “you are Jewish … you are Jewish …” and ordered her to placed on her garments and depart, regardless that he was informed that the lady was truly Protestant. Pissarro, who continued to admire Degas’ work, referred to him in a notice to Lucien as “the ferocious anti-Semite.” He later informed his pal Signac that since the anti-Semitic incidents of 1898, Degas, and Renoir as properly, shunned him. Degas, at the peak of the affair, even went as far as to recommend that Pissarro’s portray was ignoble; when reminded that he had as soon as thought extremely of his previous good friend’s work he replied, “Yes, but that was before the Dreyfus affair.”

Such anecdotes present us with a naked indication of the details regarding vanguard artists and the Dreyfus affair, and they have a tendency to create an oversimplified impression of a particularly complicated historic state of affairs. Definitely, there appears to be little proof in the artwork of any of those artists, of such primarily political attitudes as anti­-Semitism or Dreyfusard sympathies. But there are specific methods of studying the admittedly somewhat restricted visible proof that may result in a extra refined evaluation of the points concerned. Two concrete photographs reveal, higher than any elaborate theoretical rationalization, the complexity of the relation of vanguard artists to Jews and “Jewishness” and, at the similar time, the equally complicated relation which obtains between visible illustration and which means. The primary, a piece in pastel and tempera on paper of 1879, is by Edgar Degas, and it represents Ludovic Halévy, the artist’s boyhood pal and fixed companion, author, librettist, and man-about-town. Halévy is proven backstage at the opera with one other shut good friend, Boulanger-Cavé. The picture is a poignant one. The inwardness of temper and the isolation of the determine of Halévy, silhouetted towards the very important brilliance of the yellowish blue-green backdrop, recommend an empathy between the middle-aged artist and his equally middle-aged topic, who leans, with a sort of resigned nonchalance, towards his furled umbrella. The gaiety and make-believe of the theater setting solely serves as a foil to set off the important solitude, the sense of worldly weariness, established by Halévy’s determine. Halévy himself commented on this discrepancy between temper and setting in the pages of his journal: “Myself, serious in a frivolous place: That’s what Degas wanted to represent.” The one contact of vibrant shade on the figures is offered by the tiny dab of pink at each males’s lapels: the ribbon of the Legion of Honor, glowing like an ember in the darkish, signifying with Degas’ customary laconicism the distinction applicable to members of his intimate circle—although Degas himself seen such institutional accolades somewhat coolly. Halévy, in fact, was a Jew; a convert to Catholicism, to make certain, however a Jew, however, and when the time got here, a staunch Dreyfusard. His son, Daniel, one among Degas’ most fervent admirers, was to be, together with his pal Charles Peguy, certainly one of the most fervent of Dreyfus’ defenders. Nobody taking a look at this sympathetic, certainly empathetic, portrait would surmise that Degas was (or would turn into) an anti-Semite or that he would grow to be a virulent anti-Dreyfusard; certainly, that inside 10 years, he would pay his final go to to the Halévys house, which had been like his personal for a few years, and by no means return once more, besides briefly, on Ludovic’s dying in 1908, to pay his remaining respects.

Edgar Degas: ‘Ludovic Halevy et Albert Boulanger-Cavé dans les coulisses de l’Opéra,’ 1879 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

The second picture to think about is a pen-and-ink drawing, considered one of a collection of 28 by Camille Pissarro titled Les Turpitudes Sociales. Created in 1889, the collection, representing each the exploiters and the exploited of his time was meant for the political schooling of his nieces Esther and Alice Isaacson. The drawing in query is titled “Capital” and represents, in a extremely caricatural fashion, harking back to Daumier or the English graphic artist Charles Keene, the statue of a fats banker clutching a bag of gold to his coronary heart. The options of the determine—the outstanding hooked nostril, protruding automobiles, thick lips, slack pot stomach, mushy arms, and knock-knees—might virtually function an illustration for the description of the prototypical Jew concocted by the anti-Semitic agitator Drumont. In a letter accompanying Les Turpitudes Sociales, Pissarro describes this drawing as follows: “The statue is the golden calf, the God Capital. In a word it represents the divinity of the day in a portrait of a Bischoffheim [sic], of an Oppenheim, of a Rothschild, of a Gould, whatever. It is without distinction, vulgar and ugly.” Lest we expect that this stereotypically Jewish caricature glossed by an inventory of particularly Jewish names is a mere coincidence, figures with the exaggeratedly hooked noses used to pillory Jews seem prominently in the foreground of one other drawing from the collection, “The Temple of the Golden Calf,” a illustration of a crowd of speculators in entrance of the bourse. A 3rd drawing, initially meant for the Turpitudes Sociales album however then omitted, is much more overtly anti­-Semitic in its selection of determine sort. The drawing represents the golden calf being borne in procession by 4 top-hatted capitalists, the first two of whom arc proven with grotesquely exaggerated Jewish-looking options, whereas a number of long-­nosed attendants comply with behind in the cortege. The entire scene is noticed by a gaggle of working­-class figures with awed expressions.

Camille Pissarro: ‘Les Turpitudes Sociales,’ 1890. (Südwest-Verlag, München/wikimedia)

It’s exhausting for the trendy viewer to attach these anti-Semitic drawings with what we find out about Pissarro: the undeniable fact that he was, in any case, a Jew himself; that he was an anarchist; that he was a particularly beneficiant and unprejudiced individual; and, above all, with the incontrovertible fact that when the time got here he turned a staunch supporter of Dreyfus and the Dreyfusard trigger. But lest we attain the paradoxical conclusion that the anti-Dreyfusard Degas was extra sympathetic to his Jewish topics than the Jewish Dreyfusard Pissarro, one should look at additional each the artwork and the attitudes of the two artists. What, for example, are we to make of a Degas portray, virtually modern with the Halévy portrait, titled “At the Bourse”? It represents the Jewish banker, speculator, and patron of the arts, Ernest Might, on the steps of the inventory change in firm with a sure M. Bolatre. At first look, the portray appears fairly just like the “Friends on the Stage”, even to the means Degas has used some brilliantly streaked paint on the dado to the left to set off the black-clad figures. But when we glance additional, we see that this isn’t fairly the case. The gestures, the options, and the positioning of the figures recommend one thing fairly totally different from the distinction and empathetic identification attribute of the Halévy portrait: What they recommend is “Jewishness” in an unflattering, if comparatively delicate approach. If “At the Bourse” doesn’t sink to the degree of anti-Semitic caricature, like the drawings from Les Turpitudes Sociales, it however attracts from the similar polluted supply of obtainable visible stereotypes. Its subtlety owes one thing to the proven fact that it’s conceived as “a work of art” slightly than a “mere caricature.” It isn’t a lot Might’s Semitic options, however slightly the gesture that I discover disturbing—what is perhaps referred to as the “confidential touching”—that and the slightly unusual, close-up angle of imaginative and prescient from which the artist selected to report it, as if to recommend that the spectator is spying on relatively than merely taking a look at the transaction happening. At this level in Degas’ profession, gesture and the vantage level from which gesture was recorded have been every little thing in his creation of an correct, seemingly unmediated, imagery of recent life. “A back should reveal temperament, age, and social position, a pair of hands should reveal the magistrate or the merchant, and a gesture should reveal an entire range of feelings,” the critic Edmond Duranty declared in the dialogue of Degas from his polemical account of the nascent Impressionist group, “The New Painting” (1876). What’s “revealed” right here, maybe unconsciously, by way of Might’s gesture, in addition to the unseemly, inelegant closeness of the two central figures and the demeanor of the vaguely adumbrated supporting forged of characters, like the odd couple, one with a “Semitic nose,” pressed as tightly as lovers into the slender area at the left­-hand margin of the image, is an entire mythology of Jewish monetary conspiracy. That gesture—the half-hidden head tilted to afford higher intimacy, the plump white hand on the barely raised shoulder, the stiff flip of Might’s head, the considerably emphasised ear choosing up the tip—all this, in the context of the half-precise, half-merely adumbrated background, suggests “insider” info to which “they,” are privy, from which “we,” the spectators (understood to be gentile) are excluded. That is, in impact, the illustration of a conspiracy. It isn’t too farfetched to think about the conventional gesture of Judas betraying Christ on this connection, besides that right here, each figures perform to suggest Judas; Christ, in fact, is the French public, betrayed by Jewish monetary machinations.

Edgar Degas: ‘Portraits at the Stock Exchange,’ circa 1878–79. (Present of Janice H. Levin, 1991/Met Museum)

I’m speaking, in fact, of significances inscribed, for the most half unconsciously or solely half-consciously, on this vignette of recent commerce. If my studying appears a bit of paranoid, one may examine the gesture uniting the Jewish Might and his good friend with any of these in Degas’ portraits of members of his circle of relatives who, in any case, have been additionally engaged in commerce-banking on the paternal aspect, the cotton market on his mom’s.­ There’s by no means the slightest overtone of what may be regarded as the “vulgar familiarity” attribute of the gesture of Might and Bolatre of their pictures. As an alternative, Degas’ household portraits, like “The Bellelli Family” or, in a really totally different vein, “The Cotton Market in New Orleans,” recommend both aristocratic distinction or down-to-earth openness of professional engagement.

But I’m not suggesting that Degas was an anti-Semite merely by way of my studying of a single portrait any greater than I might recommend that Pissarro was an anti-Semite due to the existence of some drawings with nefarious capitalists forged in the imagery of Jewish stereotype. The actual proof for anti-Semitism, in Degas’ case, or towards it in Pissarro’s is each extra simple and, so far as Degas is worried, extra contradictory. Each artists reenact situations of their class and class-fraction positions; each of their practices in relation to what is perhaps referred to as the “signifying system” of the Dreyfus affair are fraught with inconsistencies: They don’t seem to be complete, rational techniques of conduct however slightly fluctuating and fissured responses, altering over time, deeply rooted in school and household positions however by no means similar with them.

Allow us to begin to take a look at the proof for Degas’ attitudes towards Jews, Jewishness, and the Dreyfus affair in larger element, preserving in thoughts the proven fact that the Degas who sided with the anti­-Dreyfusards in the late ’90s was not the similar Degas who sympathized with the destiny of the vanquished Communards in 1871 or labored with the Jewish Pissarro in the ’80s. Attitudes change over time, obscure propensities stiffen into positions; occasions might function potent catalysts for extremist stances.

First, then, proof of what could be referred to as “pro-Jewish” attitudes and conduct on Degas’ half previous to the Dreyfus affair—and there’s a great deal of it. It’s, to start with, plain that Degas’ circle of intimate buddies, in addition to that of his acquaintances, included many Jews, not merely Ludovic Halévy, and his son, Daniel, who, as a younger man, worshiped Degas, however Halévy’s cousin Genevieve, daughter of his uncle Fromenthal and widow of Georges Bizet, who, as Mme. Straus, spouse of a lawyer for the Rothschild pursuits, ran one in every of the necessary Parisian salons of the later 19th century. The Halévy circle included such outstanding Jewish figures as Ernest Reyer, the music critic for Le Journal des Debats; Charles Ephrussi, founding father of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts; and Charles Haas, the elegant Jewish man-about-town who served as a mannequin for Proust’s Swann. And naturally, Degas was intimately related to the Jewish artist Pissarro, each in reference to the group of the Impressionist exhibitions, through which each performed an essential position and to which each exhibited untiring loyalty, but in addition in the follow of printmaking later. Degas was one in every of the first to have purchased Pissarro’s work, and Pissarro admired Degas above all the different Impressionists, sustaining that he was “without doubt the greatest artist of the period.”

Certainly, it will have been troublesome to take part in the vanguard artwork world of the later 19th century with out coming into contact with Jews in a method or one other; even so, the variety of Degas’ Jewish pals and acquaintances was unusually giant. It’s equally plain that he portrayed a substantial variety of Jewish sitters. Along with the depictions of Halévy and Might thought-about above, there are such portraits as these of a painter good friend, Emile Levy (1826-1890), a research for which dates from August 1865-1869; M. Brandon, father of the painter Edouard Brandon (1831-1897), who was additionally a pal of Degas’, of the mid-’70s; and the “Portrait of the Painter Henri Michel-Levy” (1844-1914), one other good friend of Degas’, with whom he exchanged portraits. The painter, a minor Impressionist, son of a rich writer, is represented slouching slightly morosely in the nook of his studio, with a big model at his ft and his work on the partitions behind. Degas, in his letters, mentions sketches for a portrait of Charles Ephrussi, however the work itself has not been recognized. Maybe most shocking of all, in view of Degas’ later political stance, there’s the double portrait of “Rabbi Elie-Aristide Astruc and General Emile Mellinet” of 1871. Astruc, an authority on Judaic historical past, was chief rabbi of Belgium and assistant to the chief rabbi of Paris. Mellinet, a staunch republican, anticlerical, and Freemason, labored with Astruc in the ambulance service throughout the siege of Paris caring for the wounded. They requested Degas to color them collectively to “recall their fraternal effort.” The result’s a hanging little image, loosely dealt with, informal and unpretentious, by which Degas, though emphasizing the comradely unity between the two males, however brings out contrasts of age, sort, and character by the use of delicate parts of com­place and fairly hanging ones of colour.

But it’s the Halévys who determine over and over once more in Degas’ work, each as topic and as website, because it have been, of his apply as an artist. “We have made him,” declared Daniel Halévy in his journal in 1890, “not just an intimate friend but a member of our family, his own being scattered all over the world.” It might, in fact, be maintained, that as utterly assimilated Jews, Halévy and his sons might hardly be thought-about “Jewish” in any respect. Whereas it’s true that Ludovic Halévy doesn’t speak about his Jewishness in the pages of his carnets, and appears to have been with none specific spiritual beliefs or practices, there’s at the least one piece of proof, lengthy earlier than the Dreyfus affair introduced him to higher self-consciousness and activism, that Ludovic Halévy actually thought-about himself to be, irrevocably, a Jew. That proof is in the type of a letter that appeared in the Archives israélites, a publication devoted to Jewish political and spiritual affairs, in 1883, a time when Degas was having Thursday dinner and two or three lunches every week with Ludovic Halévy and his household at 22 rue de Douai. The event of the letter was an obituary for Ludovic’s father, Leon Halévy. After thanking the editor for the articles, Halévy states: “You are perfectly right to think and say that the moral link between myself and the Jewish community has not been broken. I feel myself to be and will always feel myself to be of the Jewish race. And it is certainly not the present circumstances, not these odious persecutions [the current pogroms in Russia and Hungary] that will weaken such a feeling in my soul. On the contrary, they only strengthen it.”

Though Halévy might have been guarded about expressing such sentiments to Degas, it’s hardly doubtless that the artist might have been utterly unaware of them—or of the incontrovertible fact that, from an anti-Semite’s viewpoint, his shut, certainly, considered one of his closest, pals was a Jew “by race,” whether or not or not Halévy selected to be one. If Degas have been in reality, an anti-Semite presently, it might seem that the virus was in a state of utmost latency, seen solely in the nuances of some artistic endeavors and intermittently at that. Or maybe one may say that earlier than the interval of the Dreyfus affair, Degas, like many different Frenchmen and ladies, and even like his erstwhile Impressionist comrade, Pissarro, was anti-Jewish solely when it comes to a sure illustration of the Jew or of specific “Jewish traits,” however his angle didn’t but present itself in overt hostility towards precise Jewish individuals, nor did it but take the type of a coherent ideology of anti-Semitism.

Edgar Degas: ‘General Mellinet and Chief Rabbi Astruc,’ 1871. (Personal assortment/Athenaeum)

In the case of the Halévys, Degas felt sufficient at house amongst them to work in addition to to take pleasure in himself of their affectionate firm. It was at their home on the rue de Douai that Degas made the drawings contained in the two giant “Halévy Sketchbooks,” in one in every of which Ludovic Halévy wrote: “All the sketches of this album were made at my house by Degas.” The Halévys made frequent appearances in Degas’ oeuvre. In addition to the backstage portrait mentioned above, each Ludovic and his son Daniel determine in one in every of Degas’ most intricate group portraits, “Six Friends at Dieppe,” a pastel made in 1885, throughout a go to to the Halévys at this seaside resort. It’s a unusual image. Most of the sitters’ are jammed towards the right-hand margin, and Degas was not flattering to lots of his topics. The sitters embrace Halévy’s son, Daniel, peeking out at the spectator from underneath a straw boater; the English painter Walter Sickert; the French artists Henri Gervex and Jacques-Emile Blanche; and Cave, “the man of taste,” as Degas referred to as him, whom the artist had portrayed earlier than with Halévy behind the scenes at the opera. On this fairly heterogeneous firm, Ludovic Halévy stands out as a particular case. As Jean Sutherland Boggs put it: “In the noble head of the bearded Halévy in the upper right of the pastel we can suspect a possible idealization which would reveal the easily satirical Degas’ admiration and respect.”

At different occasions, nevertheless, Degas appears to have been much less respectful of his previous good friend, most not­ably in the collection of monotype illustrations he created for Halévy’s light-hearted however pointed satire of backstage moms and upwardly cellular younger ballet dancers, La Famille Cardinal, in the late ’70s. Taking Halévy’s first-person narration fairly actually, Degas has his good friend seem in a minimum of 9 of the compositions, most notably in the one titled “Ludovic Halévy Meeting Mme. Cardinal Backstage.” Right here, Degas’ mischievous sense of caricature and his synoptic, suggestive drawing type are put to good use in the approach he contrasts the stiff, reticent pose of the narrator with the extra vulgar expansiveness of the mom of the two younger dancers, whose careers, on stage and off, is the topic of the ebook. In one other illustration, it’s Degas himself, maybe, who chats with the women in the firm of Halévy and one other gentleman backstage; in nonetheless one other, Halévy visits Madame Cardinal in the dressing room. Halévy evidently failed to understand Degas’ illustrations, and his refusal to simply accept them for publication evidently put some pressure on their friendship. Numerous causes have been put forth for Halévy’s displeasure: The writer is claimed to have thought Degas’ illustrations to have been “too idiosyncratic” or “more a recreation of the spirit and ambience of Halévy’s book than authentic illustrations.” Whereas each these causes could also be true, it appears to me that different issues may have figured in Halévy’s rejection of his pal’s footage: that in a few of them, he seems too engaged, an excessive amount of an element slightly than a mere spectator, of the moderately louche enterprise of promoting younger ladies’s our bodies behind the scenes at the opera. Did Halévy discover a disturbing resemblance between himself, as represented in the Famille Cardinal monotypes, and the single male customer, leaning on a cane or umbrella, who is a continuing, although typically partial, presence in the well-known brothel monotypes of the similar interval, monotypes which the Famille Cardinal prints typically resemble so intently? Degas was maybe not reticent sufficient in suggesting, by means of visible similarity, a extra materials connection between the lifetime of the ballet dancer and that of the prostitute, plain and easy, than Halévy had been prepared to make specific in his light-hearted textual content about parental venality and feminine availability. And as a last cause for the writer’s rejection of his good friend’s illustrations, is it too far-fetched to suppose that Halévy noticed a fleeting resemblance between himself as represented by Degas in the Cardinal monotypes and a few of the coarse Semitic­ featured “protectors” who appeared leering down the décolletages of ballet women in caricatures of the time? Clearly, a specific amount of pressure existed between Halévy and Degas, because it so typically does in extraordinarily shut male friendships, the place a aggressive relation with the world might battle with intense intimacy. Love and hate, help and antagonism are sometimes not to date aside. Clearly, Degas’ illustration of Halévy in the Cardinal illustrations is a fairly totally different, and extra ambiguous, one than that embodied in the “noble head” from the Dieppe group portrait.

The Halévys additionally performed a big position in Degas’ intense if not all the time profitable engagement with images. Not solely did Ludovic’s spouse, Louise, function the developer of his plates—he jokingly referred to her as “Louise la reveleuse” in considered one of his letters—however members of the Halévy household posed for a lot of of his prints and photographed tableaux vivants, amongst them the memorable parody of Ingres’ “Apotheosis of Homer,” by which the two “choirboys,” as Degas referred to as them, worshiping in the foreground are Elie appeared to have any political beliefs.” Daniel Halévy describes the circumstances of the break in appreciable element: “Thursday, 25 November 1897. Last night, chatting among ourselves at the end of the evening—until then the subject [the Dreyfus affair and Daniel Halévy].” As well as, Degas photographed Daniel Halévy, in a considerate pose, seated in an armchair, his hand supporting his chin; Mme. Ludovic Halévy, pensive, in the similar antimacassar-backed armchair; Elie in a leather-based chair together with his mom reclining on a close-by couch, a number of intriguing footage of ballet dancers on the wall behind them. In one other photograph, Ludovic is featured in a double publicity with different members of his household.

All this got here to an finish, kind of abruptly, as the time of the Dreyfus affair. As Daniel Halévy wrote: “An almost unbelievable thing happened in the autumn of 1897. Our long-standing friendship with Degas, which on our mother’s side went back to their childhood, was broken off. Nothing in our past relationship indicated that politics could cause such a break. Degas never had been proscribed as Papa was on edge, Degas very anti-Semitic—we had a few moments of delightful gaiety and relaxation. … It was the last of our happy conversations,” Daniel Halévy declares in his retrospective commentary on this journal entry. “Our friendship was to end suddenly and in silence. … One last time Degas dined with us … Degas remained silent. … His lips were closed; he looked upwards almost constantly as though cutting himself off from the company that surrounded him. Had he spoken it would no doubt have been in defense of the army, the army whose traditions and virtues he held so high, and which was now being insulted by our intellectual theorizing. Not a word came from those closed lips, and at the end of dinner Degas disappeared.”

The break with the Halévys was in some ways much less sudden than it appeared; nor might it’s attributed solely to the intensification of the Dreyfus affair at the time it occurred, though with out the affair, it won’t have taken place. One may virtually liken the strategy of turning into an anti-Semite to that of falling in love, a course of, based on Stendahl, in his well-known essay on the topic, culminating in “crystallization”; anti-­Semitism might maybe be regarded as “falling in hate,” a course of during which all the damaging buildings come collectively, and the topic assumes a brand new id vis-à-vis the Different. This requires an typically startling redefinition of former buddies and associates: for instance, in Degas’ case, of Pissarro, with whom he had labored, whom he had admired and who admired him in return, or of Ludovic Halévy. The Dreyfus affair was, in fact, certainly one of these crystallizing businesses, pushing equivocators over the brink, spurring to motion individuals like Degas who earlier than had maybe merely grumbled and learn Drumont with a sure diploma of approval, however who didn’t have a trigger till the affair served as a catalyst.

By 1895, Degas was already, along with being a violent nationalist and uncritical supporter of the military, an outspoken anti-Semite. He had begun to have his maid Zoe learn aloud at the breakfast desk from Drumont’s La Libre Parole and from Rochefort’s scurrilous L’Intransigeant, which he thought was “full of a miraculous sort of good sense.” He turned nearer to individuals who shared his concepts: the painter Forain, who viciously caricatured the Dreyfusards in the weekly Psst …; his previous good friend Henri Rouart, and the 4 Rouart sons, the latter of whom have been anti-­Dreyfusard extremists. With such companions, the getting older Degas might, so to talk, let himself go: “In the town house in the Rue de Lisbonne [the Rouarts’ home) Monsieur Degas was completely himself. … With people of whose friendship he was sure, he unbridled his frenzy as a dispenser of condemnations, as a fanatic, as a flag-waver from a past era. The others humored him in his manias and shared his prejudices.”

Degas, as a faithful follower of La Libre Parole, should have learn the so-called Monument Henry, revealed in its pages in 1898-99. This was a subscription on behalf of the widow and baby of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry, who had dedicated suicide when his fabrication of proof incriminating Dreyfus was found, and who was made right into a martyr of the anti-Dreyfusard trigger; many subscribers despatched overtly anti-Semitic messages together with their donations. One wonders what Degas manufactured from them, how he managed to reconcile these obscenities together with his precise expertise of Jewish associates and supporters. Did Degas consider Ludovic Halévy when Zoe learn to him at the breakfast desk such sentiments as “for God, the Nation and the extermination of the Jews” or “for the expulsion of the race of traitors” or “French honor against Jewish gold”? Did he consider the pleased evenings spent at the rue de Douai when he learn the remark from an inhabitant of Baccarat “who would like to see all the yids, yiddesses and their brats in the locality burned in the glass furnaces here”? Did he consider Pissarro, as soon as his companion in the Impressionist enterprise, his fellow experimenter in new printmaking methods, and certainly one of his most honest admirers, when he learn the quite a few entries, reminiscent of the following, betraying what Stephen Wilson has termed “personal sadistic involvement in detailed tortures …”? “A military doctor … who wishes that vivisection were practiced on Jews rather than on harmless rabbits”; or this: “a group of officers on active service. To buy nails to crucify the Jews.” Or this: “to make a dog’s meal by boiling up certain noses”? Or, for that matter, what may Degas, an artist deeply involved about his personal quickly failing imaginative and prescient, have considered the anti-Dreyfusard donor from Le Mans who “would like all Jews to have their eyes put out”? Or what may his response have been to the extremely imaginative suggestion, once more involving eyes and blinding, provided by Rochefort in the pages of L’Intransigeant in October of 1898 for the remedy of the magistrates who purportedly favored revision of the Dreyfus case: “A specially trained torturer should first of all cut off their eyelids with a pair of scissors. … When it is thus quite impossible for them to close their eyes, poisonous spiders will be put in the half shells of walnuts, which will be placed on their eyes, and these will be securely fixed by strings tied round their heads. The hungry spiders, which are not too choosy about what they eat, will then gnaw slowly through the cornea and into the eye, until nothing is left in the blind sockets.” One want to assume that Degas was horrified or contemptuous of such grotesque lucubrations, which, for the trendy reader, have clear sexual connotations of their use of eye symbolism, but there’s nothing to recommend that he was: On the opposite, Degas was a trustworthy reader of each journals, and evidently agreed with and took satisfaction in what they printed.

One should conclude that though Degas was certainly a unprecedented artist, an excellent innovator, and considered one of the most necessary figures in the inventive vanguard of the 19th century, he was a wonderfully unusual anti-Semite. As such, he should have been able to superb feats of each irrationality and rationalization, capable of maintain totally different elements of his internal and outer life in separate compartments to be able to assemble for himself what Sartre has known as a character with the “permanence of rock,” a morality “of petrified values,” and an id of “pitiless stone,”­ decisions, in line with Sartre, constitutive of the anti-Semite. To grasp the mechanisms of Degas’ anti-Semitism, one should conceive of the processes of displacement and condensation happening on the degree of the political unconscious functioning in a fashion not dissimilar to these of the dreamwork on the degree of the particular person psyche, processes during which contradictory parts might be effortlessly amalgamated, painful conflicts torn asunder and safely stored aside. The sleep of purpose produces monsters, and “The Jew” was produced in the sleep of Enlightenment beliefs of purpose and fact and justice, in the minds of 19th-century anti-Semites like Degas, safe in the information that the majority of their extra outrageous aggression-fantasies can be fulfilled on the degree of textual content somewhat than in apply. Textual content is the key phrase right here. For it was editors, columnists, and pam­phleteers who constructed the anti-Semitic id of males like Degas. With out the discourse of the in style press books, pamphlets, and journals, a few of it to make certain with excessive claims to “intellectual distinction” and “scientific objectivity,” which formulated and stimulated it, Degas’ anti-Semitism can be unthinkable. It was at the degree of the printed phrase that anti-Semitism, flowing from, but at the similar time fueling the fantasies of the particular person psyche, achieved a social existence and took a collective type.

There was a selected facet of Degas’ state of affairs in the world which may have made him notably prone to the anti-Semitic ideology of his time: what could be referred to as his “status anxiety.” In response to Stephen Wilson: “The French anti-Semites’ attacks on social mobility, and their ideal of a fixed social hierarchy, suggest that such an interpretation applies to them, particularly when these ideological features are set beside the marginal situation of many of the movement’s supporters.” Degas was exactly such a “marginal” determine in the social world of the late 19th century and had ample cause, by the decade of the ’90s, to be fearful about his standing.

Though it’s asserted in most of the literature that Degas got here from an aristocratic household, current analysis has revealed that the Degas household fortune the truth is had originated in somewhat shady adventurism lower than 50 years earlier than the start of the artist. Degas’ grandfather, Rene-Hilaire Degas, made his cash first as knowledgeable speculator on the grain market throughout the Revolution, at a time when meals shortages have been scary riots in Paris; then as a cash changer, first in Paris, later in the Levant; and then as a banker and actual property operator in Naples. In different phrases, the Degas household moved up in the world by exactly the similar questionable means Jews have been accused of using: hypothesis and cash altering. Neither did Degas possess the “pure” French blood or the age-old roots in the French soil valorized by Drumont, Barres, and the ultranationalists. His paternal grandmother was an Italian, Aurora Freppa, and his mom, Celestine Musson, was a local of New Orleans, the place her father was a rich and adventurous entrepreneur, whose principal exercise was cotton export, however who additionally speculated in Mexican silver mining. Though members of the Degas household in each Naples and in Paris started to signal themselves “de Gas” in the 1840s, thereby implying that they have been entitled to the particule, that’s, the preposition indicating a reputation derived from land holdings, and though one Paris relative even employed a genealogist to create a household tree legitimizing such pretensions, actually, these forebears have been, to borrow the phrases of Roy McMullen, “indulging in the foolish little parvenu trickery that was laughed at … as ‘spontaneous ennoblement.’” when Degas started signing himself “Degas” somewhat than “de Gas” after 1870, he was not rejecting an aristocratic background; he was merely signing his identify because it actually was. The parish register for the yr 1770 that data the delivery of Degas’ grandfather lists his nice­-grandfather as “Pierre Degast, boulanger.” Degas, removed from being a scion of the aristocracy, was the descendant of a provincial baker, and the class into which he was born was in truth the grande bourgeoisie, a grande bourgeoisie of somewhat current date and unsure tenure haunted by reminiscences of revolution and displacement. It was a household that moved lots, even in Paris, throughout Degas’ baby­hood, slightly than being rooted in a everlasting household hôtel. By the time of Auguste Degas’ dying in 1874, the Degas financial institution was close to collapse; by 1876, it had failed; and two years later, the artist’s brother Rene, then dwelling in New Orleans, reneged on his debt to the Paris financial institution, deserted his blind spouse and six youngsters, and ran off with one other lady. The household, briefly, disintegrated, each morally and materially. Degas’ place at the time of the Dreyfus affair gives a basic instance of the “status anxiety” related to anti-Semitism. Not solely had he chosen the marginal existence of an artist—and a nonconformist artist at that—however the household banking for­tune had vanished; the household honor was be­smirched, and the artist was obliged to sacrifice his snug personal revenue to pay his brother’s money owed. Degas, then, had come from a background as arriviste as that of any of the nouveau riche Jews his fellow anti-Semites vilified, however by 1898, even this just lately acquired upper-class place was an insecure one, regardless of his success as an artist. Anti-Semitism served not solely as a defend towards threatening downward social mobility however as a mechanism of denial, firmly differentiating Degas’ fragile haut bourgeois standing from that of the newly rich, just lately cultivated upper-class Jews whose place was, to his chagrin, virtually indistinguishable from his personal.

What impact did Degas’ anti-Semitism have on his artwork? Little or none. With uncommon exceptions, one can no extra learn Degas’ political place out of his artwork, in the sense of pointing to particular signifiers of anti-Jewish feeling inside it, than one can learn a constant anti-Semitism out of Pissarro’s use of stereotypically Jewish figures to personify capitalist greed and exploitation in the Turpitudes Sociales drawings. In Pissarro’s case, it was merely that no different visible indicators labored so successfully and with such immediacy to suggest capitalism as the hook nostril and pot stomach of the stereotypical Jew. There’s, in fact, all the time one thing repugnant about such representations, as there’s all the time one thing suspect in representations during which ladies are used to suggest vices like sin or lust, as a result of in such representations there’s inevitably a slippage between signifier and signified, and we are likely to learn the picture as “all Jews are piggish capitalists” or “all women are seductive wantons” as an alternative of studying it in a purely allegorical approach.

The illustration of anti-Semitism was a crucial problem in the work of neither Pissarro nor Degas. Usually, the topics to which they devoted themselves didn’t contain the illustration of Jews in any respect. By the time of the Dreyfus affair, Degas had kind of utterly deserted the modern themes that had marked his manufacturing from the late 1860s by means of the early 1880s, a interval when, of all the Impressionists, he had been “mostly deeply involved in the representation of modern urban life,” to borrow the phrases of Theodore Reff.

There was, nevertheless, one sustained murals by a vanguard artist at the time of the Dreyfus affair by which the query of anti-Semitism performs a central position, and that’s the set of illustrations that Toulouse-Lautrec did for Clemenceau’s Au pied du Sinaï (1898), a collection of vignettes of Jewish life. Though this isn’t the place for an in depth examination of Lautrec’s ambiguous place vis-à-vis Jews, anti-Semitism, and the Dreyfus affair—a topic properly value pursuing—sure points of his illustration of Jews in these slightly undistinguished lithographs are related to the current investigation. As soon as once more, it’s troublesome to inform the artist’s place from the pictures alone, with out figuring out one thing of their context: how they’re to be learn; who’s doing the studying; and at what second in historical past the studying is happening.

Clemenceau’s assortment of tales and anecdotes is especially about Japanese European Jews, not about educated French ones; it’s associated to the in style fin de siècle style of the journey guide. It tends to puzzle the few trendy readers who hassle to take a look at it, as a result of it’s virtually inconceivable to inform whether or not the guide is supposed as a sympathetic image of particular Jewish varieties or a bit of anti­-Semitic slander. Clemenceau, on some degree, meant this as a plea for larger understanding of the Jews of Japanese Europe who have been then being threatened with systematic persecution. In distinction to the racists of his time, Clemenceau insists on the racial variety of the Jewish varieties he met in Carlsbad, the place he went for the remedy and with whose colony of Polish Orthodox Jews he’s largely involved. He insists however on one trait he deems widespread to all Jews, one thing he denominates “the subtle ray which seeks the weak point like the flash of a fine blade of steel.” Though he implies that the spiritual ceremonies of the Hasidim are weird, even grotesque, and persistently emphasizes the “sharp practices” of all Jews, wealthy and poor, his descriptions are by no means totally different from these of different journey writers of the time taking over the picturesque customs of unique peoples. Readers conversant in the journey literature of the 19th and early 20th century dedicated to the Close to East or North Africa would discover nothing shocking in Clemenceau’s descriptions of unwashed clothes or irrational conduct on the a part of the “natives”; it’s merely that this time the natives are Jewish. Trendy Jews, not unreasonably, affiliate such discourses with these of anti-Semitism, slightly than seeing them as one facet of a wider phenomenon: the late 19th­-century development of the Different—Blacks, Indians, Arabs, the Irish—any comparatively powerless group whose customs are totally different from those that management the discourse. Certainly, Clemenceau tries to redeem himself at the finish of his part on the Hasidim with a plea for spiritual tolerance, asking whether or not it’s “any more ridiculous to shake one’s head like a duck, than to do any other movements in honor of God?” He solutions his personal query by saying: “I do not think so. Christians and Jews are of the same human stock.” Lautrec offered some quite amorphous vignettes of Polish Jews with the sidelocks, beards, and prayer shawls exhaustively detailed by Clemenceau, however there’s one lithograph in the collection that stands out: the one titled “A La Synagogue,” for Clemenceau’s story, “Schlome the Fighter.” This story tells of a poor Jewish tailor who’s drafted into the Russian military owing to the cowardice of his richer and extra highly effective co-religionists. He endures his years of conscription, returns to make his enemies pay for his or her betrayal, and then assumes his former humble position. It’s the type of David-and-Goliath fable beloved of Yiddish humorists like Sholem Aleichem, tales the place the wily little Jew triumphs over extra highly effective adversaries in the finish, besides “Schlome the Fighter” is a narrative with a piquant irony at its coronary heart, as a result of it’s the detested Russian military that’s instrumental in strengthening the Jew in query, and it’s his co-religionists, not the Russian oppressors, who’re assigned the position of villains in the piece. Schlome the Fighter can take cost of his life—can turn out to be a people hero, in reality—solely when he turns into “un-Jewish” at the dramatic climax of the story; when his manly deed is completed, he reverts to his earlier state of impotence and humility.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: ‘Schlomé Fuss in the Synagogue,’ from ‘Au Pied du Sinaï,’ 1897, revealed 1898. (Elizabeth Hammond Stickney Assortment/Artwork Institute of Chicago)

Lautrec has chosen for example the scene when Schlome forces the rich Jews gathered in the synagogue for the Day of Atonement to pay him a big indemnity. He represents Schlome precisely as Clemenceau describes him; together with his prayer scarf flung over the shoulder of his uniform, he stands on the prime step of the temple, the level of his saber towards the flooring, addressing the terrified crowd. It’s a type of witty, reversed ecce homo, the place the persecuted determine actively confronts his tormentors, takes speech, and calls for justice. Lautrec performs the forceful curve of his hero’s left arm and saber towards the curve of the plume on his Cossack’s helmet; together with his muscular legs and robust again appealingly revealed by his tight-fitting uniform, Schlome is a virile and eminently engaging determine. That is the solely time that a Jew is represented as robust and sympathetic in the collection—when the determine is completely unrecognizable as a Jew. We have now to find from the context, and the label, that this can be a Jew not a Cossack; or quite that that is an anomaly: a Jewish Cossack. This can be a token not a lot of Lautrec’s private anti-Semitism as it’s of the proven fact that there was no visible language out there with which he may need constructed a picture directly identifiably Jewish and at the similar time “positive” in phrases that might be usually legible. The signifiers that indicated “Jewishness” in the late 19th century have been too firmly locked right into a system of adverse connotations: Picturesqueness is the closest he might get to a comparatively benign illustration of Jews who look Jewish. Consequently, the Pied du Sinaï illustrations make us uneasy. We don’t know fairly the best way to take them: as anti-Semitic caricatures or as misguided however principally well-intentioned vignettes of life in an unique overseas tradition.

Degas, in his final years, when the storm of the Dreyfus affair had subsided, appears to have drawn again to a point from overt anti-Semitism, though the proof is equivocal. In response to Thadée Natanson, writer of La Revue Blanche, Degas’ voice trembled with emotion each time he needed to pronounce Pissarro’s identify. Though he didn’t attend Pissarro’s funeral in 1903, he despatched Lucien Pissarro his regrets, saying that he had been too ailing to be current: “I was in bed Sunday, dear sir, and I could not go to take the last trip, with your poor father. For a long time we did not see each other, but what memories I have of our old comradeship.” However, in one other letter, in all probability referring to the just lately deceased Pissarro, he talks about the embarrassment one felt, “in spite of oneself,” in his firm and refers to his “terrible race”—hardly phrases he would have used if Pissarro’s Jewishness had ceased to be a problem. And whereas it’s true that Degas paid a remaining go to to the Halévys’ home on the event of Ludovic’s demise and continued to see the adoring Daniel for the remainder of his life, he continued to cherish his anti-Dreyfusard opinions. “There are no signs,” based on his most up-to-date biographer, Roy McMullen, “that he ever thought he had taken the wrong side in the great clash of the two Frances.” When his previous good friend Madame Ganderax complimented him in entrance of one among his work, saying “Bravo Degas! This is the Degas we love, not the Degas of the affair,” Degas, with out blinking an eyelash, replied “Madame, it is the whole Degas who wishes to be loved.” He was implying, with a contact of bitter humor, that one couldn’t love the artist with out loving the anti-Dreyfusard as properly.

That is in fact not the case. One can separate the biography from the work, and Degas has made it straightforward for us by maintaining, with uncommon exceptions, his politics—and his anti-Semitism—out of his artwork. Until, in fact, one decides it’s unimaginable to take a look at his pictures in the similar method as soon as one is aware of about his politics, feeling that his anti-Semitism one way or the other pollutes his footage, seeping into them in some ineffable method and altering their which means, their very existence as signifying techniques. However this is able to be to make the similar ludicrous error Degas himself did when he maintained that he had solely thought Pissarro’s “Peasants Planting Cabbage” a superb portray earlier than the Dreyfus affair; Degas a minimum of had the good grace to chuckle at his personal lack of logic in that occasion.


This text first appeared in The Dreyfus Affair: Artwork, Fact, and Justice, edited by Norman L. Kleeblatt for the College of California Press, 1987. It’s reprinted right here with permission of Julia Trotta.

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