Degas House
2306 Esplanade Avenue
New Orleans, Louisiana, LA 70119, United States
+1 504 8215009
(504) 821-0870 fax

Who Was Estelle?

  • A Woman Seated on A Balcony

Estelle Musson Balfour de Gas was the cousin of Edgar Degas. Her father was the brother of Celestine Musson, Edgar Degas’ mother. A member of a Creole family, Estelle spent most of her life in New Orleans. She married Joseph Davis Balfour, nephew of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, in February of 1862. Balfour was killed in action at the Battle of Corinth a mere eight months later, leaving behind his wife, pregnant with their daughter Josephine.

In 1862, Estelle, her mother and sisters fled the captive city of New Orleans to the safety of Paris. It was during this evacuation that Estelle met Edgar and her Parisian family. Upon their return to New Orleans following the end of the American Civil War, Edgar Degas’ brother, Rene, decided to accompany the family to the United States to work with Estelle’s father, his uncle, Michel Musson, in his cotton firm. Four years later, Rene married his cousin Estelle. Estelle had five children with Rene (Pierre, Odile, Gaston, Jeanne and Henri), although only two (Odile and Gaston) survived to adulthood. Estelle’s first child, Josephine Balfour, fell victim to scarlet fever and died at the age of nineteen.

Estelle suffered from a chronic eye problem that left her blind in both eyes before she was 30. The Olivier family, neighbors of the Mussons, were close friends and often visited the house on Esplanade. America Durrive Olivier often read to Estelle and kept her company during these visits. Edgar Degas, who also had eye problems, identified with his cousin and developed a fondness for her. When Degas visited his family in New Orleans during the winter of 1872 to spring of 1873, he painted five paintings in which Estelle was the main subject.

Five years after Edgar Degas returned to Paris, Rene left Estelle for America Durrive Olivier, the neighbor who had so kindly assisted Estelle in the past. This devastating action caused a rift in the Musson and deGas families that would never heal. Michel Musson was so outraged by Rene’s actions that he adopted Estelle’s children and changed their last name from deGas to Musson.

Estelle never remarried and died in New Orleans in 1909.

  • Portrait of Estelle
  • Portrait of Estelle
  • Estelle Suite

The Estelle Suite is the showpiece of the house. The room’s majestic beauty is accentuated by magnificent draperies, a cut crystal chandelier, and its four-post king-sized bed. The room’s private balcony, overlooking oak tree adorned Esplanade Avenue, is a perfect place to relax and inhale that unmistakable New Orleans air.

Estelle’s bathroom features a classic Victorian claw-foot tub. With a twin daybed with trundle in its adjacent alcove, the Estelle Suite can accommodate up to 4 people.

The Estelle Suite has proven to be a favorite by those looking for a romantic getaway, honeymoon, and it is even perfect as a bridal suite during our "Dressing of the Bride Event".