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Loose brushstroke genre painting portrays three male figures standing in a room around a large display of raw cotton.

Three light-skinned men stand in a bright room around an elevated display of raw cotton. A man wearing a dark suit and black top hat stands behind the display, looking down with both hands in the cotton. Behind him is a mirror, which reflects the back of his head. To his right, a bearded man, depicted in profile wearing a tan suit and straw colored hat, looks down at a billowy white mass in his hands. The profile of a third man is barely visible, obscured by a wall in the foreground. On that wall is a partially visible seaside landscape painting.

Gallery Text

From October 1872 until March of the following year, Degas was in New Orleans visiting his extended family with his brother René. He painted two compositions set in the office of his maternal uncle Michel Musson, a cotton buyer. The first of these, A Cotton Office in New Orleans, which Degas intended for the commercial market, depicts the business activities of the office within the framework of a group portrait. This painting, by contrast, is less concerned with narrative and likeness, concentrating instead on the construction of the enclosed space of the shop. Borrowing framing techniques from Japanese prints, Degas has created a planar space in which the figures and objects fluctuate between three- and two-dimensionality. The image of a framed seascape on the right edge of the canvas reinforces the perspectival shifts occurring in the rest of the scene.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, French (Paris, France 1834 - 1917 Paris, France)
Cotton Merchants in New Orleans
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Marchand de coton
Work Type
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2700, European and American Art, 19th century, Impressionism and the Late Nineteenth Century
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on linen
58.7 × 71.8 cm (23 1/8 × 28 1/4 in.)
frame: 83.7 × 97 × 7.6 cm (32 15/16 × 38 3/16 × 3 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.r.: Degas [stamp]
  • label: verso, upper left of frame, torn: [printed:] EXHIBITION OF THE WORK OF E [torn, portion missing] DEGAS / THE CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART / FEBRUARY 7 [illegible] MARCH 9, 1947 / [torn, portion missing] [typewritten:] S MARCHANDS [torn, portion missing] ON / [torn, portion missing] UNIVERSITY - FOGG MUSEUM
  • label: verso, upper center of frame: [printed:] WILDENSTEIN [torn, portion missing] / 19 EAST 64th STREET / EXHIBITION [typewritten:] LOAN EXHIBITON - DEGAS / [printed:] DATE [typewritten:] APRIL 7 - MAY 14, [handwritten:] 1979 / [printed:] ARTIST / TITLE [typewritten:] COTTON MERCHANTS AT NEW ORLEANS / [printed:] LENDER [typewritten:] FOGG MUSEUM OF ART / [printed:] No. [typewritten:] 26
  • label: verso, top of center stretcher: [printed:] DATE / ARTIST [handwritten, black ink:] Degas / [printed:] SUBJECT [handwritten, black ink:] Cotton Merchants / [printed:] OWNERs NAME [handwritten, black ink:] Paul Rosenberg / [printed:] ADDRESS [handwritten, black ink:] c/o Wildenstein & Co / 647 - 5th Ave
  • label: verso, top stretcher, center, partially obscured behind labels on its left and right: [obscured] [printed:] D'ART FRANCAIS / [obscured] ANCISCO / [obscured] 1928
  • label: verso, top strecher, center: [printed:] Sujet / No du Catalogue / No de l'Invenaire / [at right, handwritten] 316
  • label: verso, top stretcher, center: [printed:] FOGG ART MUSEUM / Artist [handwritten, black ink:] Degas, Edgar / [printed:] Subject [handwritten, black ink:] Cotton Merchants / [printed:] No. [handwritten, black ink:] 1929.90 / Screen
  • label: verso, top stretcher, center, behind Fogg Art Museum label, mostly obscured: [printed:] Art [obscured] / L [obscured] / [handwritten, black ink:] 76 [label is a Fogg Temporary Loan label]
  • inscription: verso, left stretcher, center, black crayon: #7 c [illegible text]
  • inscription: verso, top of frame, white chalk: Degas
  • stamp: verso, upper left quadrant of canvas, black ink: [round stamp] DOUANES CENTRALE
  • stamp: verso, middle stretcher, left side, black ink: [center:] PARIS [perimeter] DOUANES CENTRALE
  • label: verso, left side of frame, red border, typewritten: TR 8401 / 2 [handwritten:] I
  • inscription: verso, bottom of frame, white chalk: Cotton Merchants
  • label: verso, bottom of frame, serrated edges, printed: 14
  • inscription: verso, bottom stretcher, right center, graphite: Screen #9
  • label: verso, lower right corner of frame: [printed:] The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street / New York, NY 10028 / S.L: [typewritten:] / [printed:] Descrption: [typewritten:] COTTON MERCHANTS IN / NEW ORLEANS / CAT. 116 / [printed:] Artist: [typewritten:] DEGAS / [printed:] Lender: [typewritten:] HARVARD UNIVERSITY ART / MUSEUMS (FOGG ART MUSEUM) / CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS / [printed:] Exhibition: [typewritten:] DEGAS 9/27/88 - 1/8/89
  • stamp: verso, right stretcher, black ink on cut out paper adhered to stretcher: [perimeter:] DOUANES FR [ripped, missing] SES [illegible text] / [center:] SERVICE De EX [illegible]
  • stamp: verso, center stretcher, right side, black ink: [illegible text] [Douanes stamp]
  • inscription: verso, center stretcher, right side, red chalk: [illegible text]
  • stamp: verso, lower right part of canvas, black ink: [perimeter:] DOUANES FRANCAISES / [center:] [illegible text]
  • inscription: verso, right stretcher, black crayon: No. 5
  • label: verso, right side of frame, handwritten: Degas / Marchand de / Coton
  • inscription: verso, top of frame, white chalk: 36
  • inscription: verso, top of frame, right side, white chalk: Sc 10 B


Recorded Ownership History
Atelier Degas, sold [through Vente I, Galeries Georges Petit, March 26-27, 1918, no. 3]; to [Paul Rosenberg, Wildenstein Gallery, New York], sold [1]; to Fogg Art Museum, 1929.

[1] Purchased through the generosity of Herbert N. Straus.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Herbert N. Straus
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • Exhibition of French Painting of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1929), #31; repr. pl. XXI
  • Degas, checklist, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1931), no. 5
  • Fogg Art Museum Handbook, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1931), repr. in b/w p. 69
  • Philip Hendy, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Catalogue of the Exhibited Paintings and Drawings, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, MA, 1931), p. 121
  • Fogg Art Museum Handbook, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1936), ill. p. 100
  • "Degas Painted the New Orleans Cotton Merchants", Vogue (May 1 1940), repr. in color p. 46
  • Walter Pach, Catalogue of European and American paintings, 1500-1900, exh. cat., Art Aid Corporation (New York, NY, 1940), p. 175, no. 270, ill.
  • John Rewald, "Degas and his Family in New Orleans", Gazette des Beaux-Arts (Paris, France, 1946), repr. fig. 14
  • Paul André Lemoisne, Degas et son Oeuvre, Paul Brame and Cesar M. de Hauke (Paris, France, 1946-1949), v. II, no. 321, repr.
  • Works by Edgar Degas, exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, OH, 1947), no. 18, pl. XVI
  • A loan exhibition of Degas for the benefit of the New York Infirmary, exh. cat., Wildenstein & Company (New York, NY, 1949), #26, repr. p. 27
  • American Processional, 1492-1900, exh. cat., The National Capital Sesquicentennial Commission and Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, DC, 1950), pp. 209, 249, cat. 272
  • American Processional: 1492-1950, exh. cat., Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C, 1950), no. 272, repr. p. 209, text p. 28
  • The French in America, 1520-1880, exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, MI, 1951), p. 84, no. 191
  • Ciba Review, "New Orleans, Centre of the Cotton Trade", Ciba Review, Society of Chemical Industry in Basel (Basel, Switzerland, May 1953), no.97, repr. p. 3492
  • Masterpieces of French Painting through Five Centuries, 1400-1900, exh. cat., Isaac Delgado Museum of Art (New Orleans, LA, 1953)
  • Pictures of Everyday Life, exh. cat., Carnegie Institute (Pittsburgh, PA, 1954), repr. as no. 84
  • Anne V. Dort, "French Art of the 19th Century", Boston Symphony Orchestra Concert Bulletin (Boston, MA, 1958 -1959), no. 21, no. 21, p. 1317
  • S. Lane Faison, Jr., A Guide to the Art Museums of New England, Harcourt, Brace and Co. (New York, 1958), p. 119; repr. fig. 19
  • Degas: loan exhibition, for the benefit of the Citizens' Committee for Children of New York, inc., exh. cat., Wildenstein & Company (New York, NY, 1960), #23
  • Germain Seligman, Merchants of Art, exh. cat., Appleton-Century-Crofts (New York, NY, 1961), p. 207
  • Works by Manet, Degas, Morisot, Cassatt, exh. cat., Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, MD, 1962), #38, p. 54
  • A Survey of the Collections, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1964), repr.
  • Highlights from the Collections of the Fogg Museum and Harvard Alumni of St. Louis, exh. cat., City Art Museum of St. Louis (St. Louis, 1964), cat. 27
  • Barbara S. Shapiro, Edgar Degas: the Reluctant Impressionist, exh. cat., Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, MA, 1974), no. 9, repr.
  • Impressionism: A Centenary Exhibition, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, 1974), p. 101
  • Caroline A. Jones, Modern Art at Harvard: The Formation of the Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums (New York, NY and Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press, 1985). With an essay by John Coolidge and a preface by John M. Rosenfield. To accompany the inaugural exhibition at the Sackler Museum, Oct 21 1985 - Jan 5 1986, repr. in color as fig. 41, p. 51
  • Michael Milkovich, Degas and his Friends, exh. cat., Dixon Gallery and Gardens (Memphis TN, 1986), p. 5 and no. 2, p. 69
  • Denys Sutton, Edgar Degas, Life and Work, Rizzoli (New York, NY, 1986), fig. 84, p. 102, repr. b/w
  • Theodore Reff, Degas: The Artist's Mind, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1987), mentioned p. 144; footnote #169, p. 319
  • Jean Sutherland Boggs, Degas, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art / National Gallery of Canada (New York, NY and Ottawa, Canada, 1988), no. 116, pp. 188-189; repr. in color, no. 116, p. 189
  • Frank Milner, Degas, Bison Group (London, England, 1990), repr. in color p. 80; text, p. 80
  • Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), pp. 104, 240, repr. b/w cat. no. 331
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection and Selected Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings and Drawings in the Fogg Art Museum, exh. cat., Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1990), repr. in color no. 13, p. 57
  • Bernd Growe, Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, Benedikt Taschen Verlag (Köln, Germany, 1991), repr. in color, p. 22
  • Carol Armstrong, Odd Man Out: Readings of the Work and Reputation of Edgar Degas, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL and London, England, 1991), repr. in b/w fig. 10, p. 32; mentioned p. 31
  • Barbara Maria Stafford, Artful Science: Enlightenment, Entertainment,and the Eclipse of Visual Education, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA, 1994), repr. in b/w p. 298, fig. 193
  • Marilyn Brown, Degas and the business of art: a cotton office in New Orleans, Pennsylvania State University Press (University Park, Pa, 1994), repr. as fig. 3 on pg 19, pp. 19-20, 26-27, 46, 126-128, 131
  • Felix Baumann and Marianne Karabelnik, Degas: Die Portraits, exh. cat., Merrell Holberton / Kunsthaus Zurich (London, England and Zürich, Switzerland, 1994), repr. in b/w, p. 33
  • Paul Duro, ed., The Rhetoric of the Frame: Essays on the Boundaries of the Artwork, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England, 1996), b/w repro. p. 147
  • Christopher Benfey, Degas in New Orleans, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. (New York, NY, 1997), p. 156
  • Masterpieces of world art : Fogg Art Museum, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1997
  • Calvin Tomkins, "New Orleans Interlude", The New Yorker (May 31 1999), pp. 98-102, pp. 100-101; repr. p. 99
  • Gail Feigenbaum and Jean Sutherland Boggs, Degas and New Orleans: A French Impressionist in America, exh. cat., New Orleans Museum of Art/ Ordrupgaard (New Orleans, 1999), pp. 224, repr. in color; detail repr. p. 32; pp. 52-53, 222-235
  • Teri Hensick, "Process or Product?", Dear Print Fan: A Festschrift for Marjorie B. Cohn, ed. Craigen Bowen, Susan Dackerman, and Elizabeth Mansfield, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2001), pp. 153-159, p. 154, figs. 2-4; p. 156, fig. 6 (details); p. 157, fig. 7 (details); p.158, figs. 8, 9 (details); p. 159, fig. 10 (detail)
  • Mogens Bjerring-Hansen, ed., Falkenstjerne Verdenslitteratur, Gads Forlag (Copenhagen, 2001), repr. in color p. 291
  • Thomas Lederballe, ed., The Age of Impressionism: European Paintings from Ordrupgaard, Reproline and Rosendahls Bogtrykkeri (Copenhagen, 2002), p. 111, repr. in b/w as fig. 1
  • Stephen Bann, Jannis Kounellis, Reaktion Books (London, England, 2003), pp. 138-147, repr. in b/w as fig. 99
  • Jon Garelick, "Abstract Thoughts: The Transitional and Transcendent Art of Edgar Degas at the Sackler Museum", The Boston Phoenix (August 5 2005), p. 18, p. 18
  • Holland Cotter, "Degas, Director: An Easel Becomes a Stage", The New York Times (August 5 2005), pp. B25, B27, p. B27
  • Leigh Montgomery, "Double Degas: From Lines to Paintings", The Christian Science Monitor (September 7 2005), p. 19, repr. p. 19
  • Marjorie B. Cohn and Jean Sutherland Boggs, Degas at Harvard, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums/Yale University Press (Cambridge and New Haven, 2005), detail repr. in color p. 12; p. 37, repr. in color; p. 89; no. 2, p. 98
  • Janet Marquardt and Stephen Eskilson, Frames of Reference: Art, History and the World, McGraw-Hill (Boston, MA, 2005), repr. p. 200 as fig. 6.37
  • Alexander Eiling, Degas: Klassik und Experiment, exh. cat., Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe and Hirmer (Karlsruhe, 2014), p. 148, repr. p. 149 as fig. 43.3
  • Henri Loyrette, Degas: A New Vision, exh. cat., National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Melbourne/Houston, 2016), repr. p. 125
  • Simon Kelly and Esther Bell, Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade, exh. cat., California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and DelMonico Books Prestel (San Francisco, 2017), p. 32, repr. as fig. 15
  • Caroline Shields, Impressionism in the Age of Industry, exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto, 2019), p. 63, repr. pp. 64, 186
  • Laurence des Cars, Stéphane Guégan, and Isolde Pludermacher, Manet/Degas, exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay (Paris, 2023), fig. 83
  • Stephan Wolohojian and Ashley E. Dunn, Manet/Degas, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 2023), p. 293, pl. 140

Exhibition History

  • French Painting of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 03/06/1929 - 04/06/1929
  • Degas, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 05/09/1931 - 05/30/1931
  • Masterpieces of Art, New York World's Fair, New York, 05/11/1940 - 10/27/1940
  • French Painting of the XIXth and XXth Centuries, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 07/01/1941 - 08/16/1941
  • French Art of the Nineteenth Century, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 07/01/1942 - 08/31/1942
  • Fifty Year Retrospective, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, 01/03/1945 - 02/16/1945
  • Works by Edgar Degas, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 02/05/1947 - 03/09/1947
  • Degas' Portraits of his Family and Friends, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, 03/06/1948 - 03/28/1948
  • A loan exhibition of Degas for the benefit of the New York Infirmary, Wildenstein Gallery, New York, New York, 04/06/1949 - 05/14/1949
  • American Processional: 1492-1900, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 01/01/1950 - 12/31/1950
  • The French in America, 1520-1880, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, 07/08/1951 - 09/16/1951
  • French 19th Century Paintings and Drawings, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/01/1952 - 08/31/1952
  • Masterpieces of French Painting Through Five Centuries, 1400-1900, Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans, 10/17/1953 - 01/10/1954
  • Pictures of Everyday Life: Genre Painting in Europe, 1500-1900, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 10/14/1954 - 12/12/1954
  • Inaugural Exhibition of French Painting, Atlanta Art Association, Atlanta, 09/20/1955 - 10/05/1955
  • Unidentified Exhibition, University of Georgia, 1958, University of Georgia, Athens, 01/01/1958 - 03/15/1958
  • French Art of the 19th Century, Symphony Hall, Boston, 03/24/1959 - 04/24/1959
  • Picture of the Month, University of Florida, 01/01/1960 - 02/28/1960
  • Degas: Loan exhibition, for the Benefit of the Citizens' Committee for Children of New York, Inc., Wildenstein Gallery, New York, New York, 04/07/1960 - 05/07/1960
  • Paintings, drawings and graphic works by Manet, Degas, Morisot and Cassatt, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, 04/18/1962 - 06/03/1962
  • Highlights from the Collection of the Fogg Art Museum and Harvard Alumni of St. Louis, City Art Museum of St. Louis, St. Louis, 01/30/1964 - 03/01/1964
  • La peinture française dans les collections américaines, Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, Bordeaux, 05/13/1966 - 09/15/1966
  • Edgar Degas: the Reluctant Impressionist, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 06/19/1974 - 09/15/1974
  • The European Vision of America, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 12/07/1975 - 02/15/1976
  • Master Paintings from the Fogg Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/13/1977 - 08/31/1977
  • Modern Art at Harvard, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/21/1985 - 01/05/1986
  • Degas and His Friends, Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, 09/16/1986 - 10/31/1986
  • Degas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 09/27/1988 - 01/08/1989
  • The Maurice Wertheim Collection and Selected Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings and Drawings in the Fogg Art Museum, Isetan Department Store, Tokyo, 03/01/1990 - 04/10/1990; Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art, 04/14/1990 - 05/13/1990
  • Degas and New Orleans: A French Impressionist in America, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, 05/01/1999 - 08/19/1999; Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen, 09/16/1999 - 11/28/1999
  • Degas at Harvard, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/01/2005 - 11/27/2005
  • Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013
  • 32Q: 2700 Impressionism, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 04/12/2016; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 07/14/2017 - 09/27/2018; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 07/14/2022 - 07/10/2023
  • 32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/31/2019 - 01/08/2020
  • Degas: A New Vision, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Melbourne, 06/24/2016 - 09/18/2016; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, 10/16/2016 - 01/16/2017
  • Impressionism in the Age of Industry: Monet, Pissarro and More, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 02/16/2019 - 05/05/2019
  • Manet/Degas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 09/24/2023 - 01/07/2024

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Related Works

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at