Targa Edgar Degas Palazzo De Gas, Ruislip Gardens 2017 - CC BY-SA 4.0


Edgar Degas, famous French impressionist painter known for his paintings of dancers, had an unexpected and profound link with Naples.

His paternal grandfather lived in Naples, Salita Trinità Maggiore near Piazza del Gesù and the Monastero di Santa Chiara, with the family in a building owned by him, today called Palazzo Degas, but at the time was known as Palazzo Pignatelli di Monteleone.

The grandfather René Hilaire De Gas, French nobleman, who at the time of the revolution changed his name with the less noble Degas, was forced to flee France and take refuge in Naples. Here he did his profession as a banker and stockbroker.

He married Giovanna Teresa Freppa, native of Livorno, and he had seven children, four brothers Auguste, Henri, Eduard and Achille and three sisters Rosa, Laura and Fanny; four males with adulthood moved to France while females resided at Naples and married members of Neapolitan nobility; only Auguste returned after many years to Naples where he died and was buried.

Auguste, father of Edgar Degas, a banker in Paris, married Celestine Musson, an American of French origin, who gave him five children: the eldest son Edgar was born in Paris on July 19, 1834, and then Achille, Therese, Marguerite and René.

Only Therese was born in Naples in 1840 and, after the premature death of his mother in 1847, moved there permanently where she was raised by his aunts.

Fond of painting, in 1854 Edgar made a trip to Naples, certainly not the first in view of the close ties with his father’s family, staying at the home of his grandfather Hilaire.

Here he attended the Reale Istituto di Belle Arti where he learned the basics of drawing and painting and began practicing with numerous self-portraits and portraits of parents of Naples and grandfather Hilaire. 

The stays in Naples and the observation of the frantic activity that women and men place in the streets, instilled the seeds of “movementism” in the figures of the impressionist painting by Degas.

With the attendance of liberal circles of Naples he enjoyed Pasquale Villari and Domenico Morelli, who withdrew her sister in a famous painting.

In Paris in 1855 he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, but soon, impatient teaching too conformist who had found there, he returned to Italy where, starting from Naples, he made the “grand Tour” through Italy, and like other artists, he fortified his style with the copy of classic paintings.  

In Florence was a guest of Aunt Laura and her husband Baron Gennaro Bellelli; there painted the picture “la Famille Bellelli” that represented the aunt, the husband and their two daughters Giovanna and Giulia in the study of Baron.

Back in Paris he resumed attending circles of impressionist painters where he begins to have a certain reputation, especially for its many paintings of dancers in various poses, the subject for which he showed throughout his life a certain passion.

After the death of his grandfather Hilaire, he went to Naples several times to treat his inheritance, about it he had contrasts with his aunts and cousins, because his economic condition was not prosperous because of an eye disease that was appeared with age and that prevented him from painting.

Because of these contrasts, he preferred to be a guest of the Bellelli cousins with whom kept a good relationship in his later trips to Naples.

He dies, completely blind, September 27, 1917 in Paris.