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Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Portrait of Elena Carafa

Key facts
Full title Portrait of Elena Carafa
Artist Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas
Artist dates 1834 - 1917
Date made about 1875
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 70.1 × 55 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1926
Inventory number NG4167
Location Room 44
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of Elena Carafa
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

Elena Carafa was Degas’s first cousin. Her mother, Stefanina, the Duchessa Montejasi-Cicerale, was the youngest sister of Degas’s father. Like many members of Degas’s family they lived in Naples, which Degas himself returned to in the winter of 1873–4, when he accompanied his dying father there. He was in Naples again in 1875 for the funeral of an uncle.

This portrait was either painted during one of these visits – being in mourning may explain Elena’s black dress – or when Elena was in Paris. Degas had previously painted Elena with her younger sister, Camilla, around 1865–8. In that portrait, she also looks directly at us.

Degas originally planned to show Elena facing towards the right, with a more pensive look. In the finished painting, he turned her face and upper body to the left so that she looks at us directly.

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