Who was Mathilde?
Mathilde Musson Bell was one of Michel Musson’s daughters and sister to Estelle and Desiree. A cousin of Edgar Degas, she lived in the house on Esplanade with her entire family and her husband, William Bell, at the time of Degas’ visit to New Orleans. Mathilde was the mother of Carrie, Sidney and Baby William Bell. At the time of Degas’ visit to New Orleans, Carrie was five, Sidney was one, and William was an infant. Carrie was likely one of the children in Children on a Doorstep, one of Degas’ paintings.
Mathilde’s husband, William, was an American and involved in the cotton industry with her father, Michel, and the politics of the city during the period of Reconstruction after the American Civil War. He can be seen showing cotton to a customer in Degas’ painting, Portraits in a New Orleans Cotton Office.
Mathilde is the subject in the painting Woman Seated on a Balcony, which is often mistaken for her sister, Estelle. Desgas completed several sketches of Woman Seated on a Balcony in preparation for the final work. In each of these sketches, Mathilde is portrayed in a slightly different manner, with different hand motions and composure.
Mathilde died on September 21, 1878, at the age of 37. Upon her untimely death, her family asked Degas to send them the painting Woman Seated on a Balcony so it could serve as a memorial to her. Degas replied that he would send the painting upon completion, but he never fulfilled this promise. The Musson and Bell families would long for this painting as a memorial for the remainder of Degas’ life. Degas never completed the painting, as can be seen by the rough sketchy quality of the lower portion of the work.
Named for Mathilde Musson, Edgar Degas’ cousin, who lived in this wing of the house with her husband and their 3 children, the Mathilde Suite is a spacious and beautifully-appointed 2-bedroom suite with private balcony overlooking historic Esplanade Avenue and Gayarre Park beneath a canopy of massive live oaks. The master bedroom has a king-sized bed, with a hand-carved double bed from Normandy in the other. There is also a private kitchen and a large bathroom with Jacuzzi. The Mathilde accommodates up to 4 people.