La Famille Bellelli
The palette of Edgar Degas (1834-1917) for this work probably included:
- lead white and zinc white,
- yellow ochre,
- lemon yellow,
- red earth,
- Prussian blue,
- and chrome green.
Degas was interested in the theoretical aspects of colour and J. K. Huysmans said that:
"No other painter since Delacroix, whom he has studied at length and who is his true master, has understood as M. Degas does the marriage and adultery of colours."
Degas made the traditional trip to Italy in June 1856 to study the Italian masters: he also had another more personal reason for his trip, since his paternal grandfather had been exiled to Naples, and his father had been born there. After visits to Venice. Assisi and Rome. Degas arrived in Florence to see his relations in August 1858. only to find his aunt away in Naples, caring for her sick father, Degas' grandfather, who died on 31 August. During the nine months of his visit Degas began to plan a large portrait of his relatives, the Bellelli family, and made drawn and painted studies which he took back with him to Paris, where the painting "The Bellelli Family", La Famille Bellelli was executed in his Paris studio on the rue Madame. Under the influence of the great Spanish artist, Diego Velázquez (1599-1660), Degas added a mirror reflection to the perspective, a device also seen in Las Meninas. Degas was also a great admirer of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), and had studied with a pupil of his at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the mid 1850's. Ingres' delicate group portrait drawings, done mainly in Rome in the 1810's show a frieze-like distribution of figures across the picture surface in a flat pictorial space, similar to that in Degas' portrait. The main sitters are his aunt, Laura Bellelli, née de Gas, and his Italian uncle, Gennaro Bellelli. With them are their daughters, Giulia and Giovanna. On the wall behind there's a fifth member of the family: in one of Degas' own drawings, a chalk study depicting Laura's father, and his grandfather, Hilaire de Gas - Degas had compacted his aristocratic surname to be a proper bourgeois artist. The tensions between the ill-tempered Baron and his wife were common knowledge in the Degas family, and the difficulties would not have passed unnoticed by Degas during his stay with them. The intensity and availability of light increases the division implied within the composition, separating the father from his wife and two daughters. The lighting of the three females is clear but gentle, confirming Degas' fondness for his aunt's side of the family. The paint layer in the work is remarkably fine and thin. accentuating the classical draughtsmanship which underlies the picture; despite its thinness, the paint is generally opaque and as a result the colour of the pale priming cannot be identified with accuracy, as it only glows through the thin colours of the paint layer. In the tradition of Ingres, various degrees of finish are used. with a fairly high finish on the important areas and more loosely handled brushwork in wallpaper and carpet. It was in the possession of the Bellelli family until around 1900 when, because it had suffered some damage, Degas brought it back to Paris.
The painting is on display at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.