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Degas House, A Historical House Museum

The term “Historical House Museum” is an important designation since historic houses are among the most numerous museums in the country and being designated as one is an honor. Degas House is such a museum.

Degas House itself is the artifact. This is why even though there are no original paintings and sculptures of Edgar Degas in the home, it still deserves the designation as a Historial House Museum. Degas House is where Edgar Degas lived with his maternal relatives, the Mussons in New Orleans, and is the only home or studio of Edgar Degas in the world open to the public. In this home, Degas created 18 paintings, 4 drawings and 5 letters. Degas House has been distinguished by The French Ministry of Culture and is included in the French National Order of Arts and Letters. It is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Edgar Degas was the only major French painter of the Impressionist generation to travel to the United States and paint what he saw there (Degas in New Orleans by Christopher Benfey). Degas House on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans is where he lived when his painting style changed to Impressionism, which he termed “a better art” in one of his letters. He left the city to return to France with a new sense of direction and resolve.

In historic house museums, historic furnishings may be displayed in a way that reflects their original placement and usage in a home. Historic house museums are held to a variety of standards, including those of the International Council of Museums.

These types of museums may also be known as a ‘memory museum’, which is a term used to suggest that the historic house museum contains a collection of the traces of memory of the people who once lived there. It is often made up of the inhabitants’ belongings and objects – this approach is mostly concerned with authenticity. Some museums are organized around the person who lived there. This is certainly the case with Degas House. Reproductions of many of Degas’ paintings adorn the walls throughout. The actual bedroom where he lived is shown during the Edgar Degas House Creole Impressionist Tour and portions of the walls and floor as it existed when he lived there in 1872 – 1873 can be seen.

Other historic house museums may be partially or completely reconstructed in order to tell the story of a particular area, social-class or historical period. The ‘narrative’ of the people who lived there guides this approach, and dictates the manner in which it is completed. In each kind of museum, visitors learn about the previous inhabitants through an explanation and exploration of social history. During the Edgar Degas House Creole Impressionist Tour, held twice daily, visitors view the documentary, “Degas in New Orleans, a Creole Sojourn” and learn about Edgar Degas, his family, the house and even the Creole neighborhood during a walking tour.

A degree of authenticity is also to be considered in the restoration and creation of a historic house museum. The space must be authentic in terms of truly replicating and representing the way it once stood in its original form and appear to be untouched and left in time. There are three steps when declaring if a space is authentic:

1. Proof of identity must be presented and certified by a credible individual
2. The attributes of the object or person must then be compared to the existing knowledge about it
3. Documentation and credentials must then be used to support it and thus declare if it is authentic.
Degas House has been distinguished by The French Ministry of Culture and is included in the French National Order of Arts and Letters

Wikipedia – Historic House Museum