Degas Father Listening to Pagan, 1869 by Edgar Degas

THERE ARE A NUMBER OF PAINTINGS by Degas in which with exquisite tact he studied people listening to music. Auguste De Gas, the father of the artist, was a great enthusiast of Italian music and himself a successful amateur musician. Lorenzo Pagans, a Spanish singer, was celebrated in Paris, appearing in many concerts where he accompanied himself on the guitar. He often took part in musical evenings at the homes of Degas and Manet.

This is the second of three portraits Degas painted on the same theme. The first (today in the Louvre) is more conventional, showing Pagans seated, in full-face, with the father listening in the background. In the version reproduced here Degas gave a more intense expression to the moment, contrasting the erect figure of the singer, pushed to the left, with the bent, aging old man on the right; the canvas is daringly divided by the vertical of the guitar, and the contrast deepened by silhouetting the profile of Pagans and placing the head of Auguste against an open sheet of music. The execution is freer and more sketchy, Degas' brush supplying short accents which build the form and yet give an impromptu and casual effect to the unusual composition. There is relatively little color, the tans, browns, greys, and whites contributing to a restrained tonal harmony.