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Lost & Found

At first glance, the 1854 house flying the French flag at 2306 Esplanade Avenue is unremarkable in a town teeming with antebellum homes trimmed with cast-iron galleries, but its story is far richer than most. Events within these walls rocked the international art world after a visit from Edgar Degas, the only nineteenth-century French Impressionist to ever work in America. “He drowsed in the vibrant sunlight until the carriage halted before the Musson home. Through bleary eyes, he admired a handsome, three-storied house with generous galleries and dependencies and, here and there, cousin Désirée’s promised sweet olive trees.” –Creole Son Degas (1834-1917) was born in Paris to a French father, Auguste Degas, and a New Orleans-born mother, Célestine Musson. In...

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Southern Exposure

Last week’s turmoil over the Confederate flag triggered a firestorm of commentary, and while people are certainly entitled to their opinions, I was distressed by the amount of vitriol heaped on the South in general. As a native Southerner who grew up in the days of segregation, I’m all too aware of the region’s violent history, as I am aware of race riots, past and ongoing, in other parts of this country. I also know there’s more than enough guilt and blame to go around, and while it’s crucial to learn from the past, we should not be so consumed with evil deeds that we ignore the good ones. There were numerous white Southerners, myself included, who recognized the injustice of segregation and contributed to the civil rights movement. Yes, it’s time to relegate...

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The French Connection

In 1884, Virginie Amélie Gautreau, a Parisian socialite celebrated for her eccentric beauty and rumored liaisons, agreed to pose for rising star artist, John Singer Sargent. What they assumed would be a collaboration advancing both their social positions had, alas, the opposite effect. When the painting was unveiled at the Paris Salon, entitled Portrait de Mme ***, the public, who had no trouble identifying the subject, was appalled by Virginie’s revealing gown with its right strap falling casually off her shoulder, her corpse-like skin and provocative pose. It was also savaged by critics crying that no well-born lady would dress in such an unconventional manner. Desperate to save the moment, Sargent painted the strap back in place and renamed the painting Madam...

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