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Title: Portraits at the Stock Exchange.
Author : DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)
Dimensions: Height 100 - Width 82
Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas
Storage location: Orsay Museum website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web
Picture reference: 99-004992 / RF2444
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski
Publication date: April 2006
Became in 1724 the official institution where commodities, currencies and securities are traded at the same time, the Paris Stock Exchange was endowed with stable regulations under the Empire and a building, completed in 1827 , whose construction was entrusted by Napoleon to the architect Alexandre Théodore Brongniart. From the middle of the XIXe century, the preponderant role of the Stock Exchange in the economic development of France, and in particular in the financing of industrialization, marked the triumph of the business bourgeoisie, made up of bankers, brokers and stockbrokers who, all attracted by the taste for speculation and the ease of enrichment, met at the Brongniart Palace.
In this genre scene whose title tells us that it takes place on the Stock Exchange, Edgar Degas has rightly represented businessmen in frock coats and top hats, as the bourgeois fashion of the time wanted, which 'maintain under the peristyle of the Brongniart Palace. In his notebooks, the painter specified that the two men in the center of the painting are Ernest May, the elongated face and the binoculars on his nose, who was the administrator-director of the Franco-Egyptian Bank, and behind him, his partner , a man named Bolâtre, with a stocky figure.
Degas had met the wealthy banker a few months earlier and his description to a friend of his was brief but biting: "He is a businessman who dashes into the arts!" Indeed, May was also an art lover and over the years he had assembled a large collection, mainly paintings by Old Masters, but from 1878 he began to buy works from the Impressionists. Although he had met him for this purpose, Degas chose to present this man within the framework of his financial activities. Thus, he portrays it arriving at the Stock Exchange, apparently to inquire about the daily prices that a stockbroker gives him and which he tells his companion, who leans on his shoulder to better see the slip. The other characters, whose features the painter left blurry, even unfinished as illustrated by the repentance for the man in the foreground on the right, serve to make the scene more animated, even caricatural, when we discover in the back - shot on the left a grotesque character, with the appearance of a clown.
As a keen observer of the Parisian bourgeoisie to which he belonged and devoted a large part of his art, Degas produced here one of the rare transcriptions of a scene at the Stock Exchange, its atmosphere, its clients, its practices. With malice, the painter even delivered his critical look on this commercial institution, both adored for the wealth it drained and suspected for its mood swings, and especially on these businessmen, symbolized by Ernest May, who by trading very quickly built their fortune and collected works of art to show their success. But Ernest May did not hold it against Degas, since a few months later he bought him three paintings and, before dying, bequeathed his portrait to the Louvre.
Pierre CABANNE Edgar DegasParis, Tisné, 1957.Georges DUBY (dir.) History of urban France.The city in the industrial age IV, Paris, Le Seuil, 1983.Andrew FORGE and Robert GORDONDegasParis, Flammarion, 1988.Paul-Jacques LEHMANNHistory de la BourseParis, PUF, 1997.Paul-André LEMOISNEDegas and his workome II, Paris, Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1949.Henri LOYRETTEDegasParis, Gallimard, 1988.Denys SUTTONDegas.Life and workParis, Nathan, 1986. Émile ZOLAL'Argent1890.Catalogue of the DegasParis exhibition, RMN, 1988.
To cite this article
Fleur SIOUFFI, “Portraits on the Stock Exchange”