Edgar Degas (1834-1917), whose birthday is tomorrow, was half American, a fact I often forget. But not only was his mother a Creole lady from New Orleans, but Edgar himself spent several months in the city visiting his cotton factor brother Rene and other relatives.
Artistically, his visit was a great success, resulting in A Cotton Office in New Orleans, the only painting purchased by a museum during his lifetime, and a picture that is considered his first impressionist painting.
(Degas’ brother, btw, is shown reading a newspaper and his uncle stands behind the table at back, examining cotton.)
He had by then – 1873 – become good friends with Edouard Manet and Manet’s influence is apparent. Compare the Cotton Office with Manet’s On the balcony, below.)
But Degas rejected the impressionist label,once declaring ”no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing.”
He particularly disapproved of painting outdoors. Late in life he became a rabid photographer and a sculptor. After his death in 1917, more than a hundred wax models were found that had never been cast – they were taken to a foundry in Paris where 73 were found to be viable and all were made as bronzes between 1919 and 1936.
Degas developed eye trouble in his forties and was nearly blind in his old age, which may explain in part his gradual withdrawal from the world. He became increasingly curmudgeonly and increasingly conservative, unapologetically anti-semitic.
A very good selection of his work is shown on Wikipedia and 59 of his works are available at the Google Art Project.