Oil on fabric
Framed: 67.6 x 58.4 x 6 cm (26 5/8 x 23 x 2 3/8 in.); Unframed: 49 x 39.4 cm (19 5/16 x 15 1/2 in.)
Bequest of Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. 1958.28
Degas was a Parisian by birth, but had family connections around the world, including New Orleans and Italy. In this portrait Degas's aunt, who was a titled member of the aristocracy in southwestern Italy, is captured in loose, flowing strokes with her mourning dress and watery-eyed gaze.
Although best remembered for his depictions of ballet dancers and race horses, Degas painted many likenesses of his family members. He probably painted this portrait of his aunt, Stefania Carafa (1819–1901), during an extended visit to Naples, where many of his relatives lived. Described in family papers as a highly indulged, fun-loving child, the duchess grew into the stoic, world-weary woman depicted here. No expensive finery reveals her high social rank; indeed she wears a mourning dress, possibly to observe the recent death of her brother Achille.
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