During the 19th and 20th centuries, the depiction of family life in art began to change as modernism and capitalist culture was introduced to French society. Edgar Degas, a French Impressionist painter,
Edgar Degas’ paintings on the bourgeois family life puts an emphasis on the “apartness and disjunction” of the family structure during 19th and 20th century.1 Interior with Two People represents Degas’ interest in the fragmentation and contradictions that riddle the common idea of the bourgeois family in the nineteenth century.2 The man and woman in Degas’ Interior with Two People seem to belong to the upper bourgeois class in French society as suggested by the clothing of the two. It could be speculated that Degas paints a husband and wife, yet unlike the love and intimacy commonly thought to be in a marriage, both individuals have their backs turned towards each other. In contrast to the warm colors Degas uses to paint the interior, the frigid and disjointed atmosphere of the painting symbolize the fragmentation of bourgeois family life. The woman expresses sorrow and the man, with his tense stance and fisted hand, expresses tenseness. Similar to Degas’ The Interior (also called The Rape, plate 2) or Sulking, the “yawning space between the gendered opponents and/or fragments or centrifugal composition constructs a disturbing sense of psychological distance or underlying hostility between the figures in question.”3,4,5
Corresponding to Interior with Two People, Degas’ family portrait, The Belleli Family, of his aunt Laura and her family is a painting about “the contradictions riddling the general idea of the high bourgeois family in the middle of the nineteenth century.” 6,7 The painting is considered a representation of “The Family,” with Degas inscribing the tensions and oppositions that are characteristic of familial relationships, as seen in Interior with Two People. Degas inscribes in his painting the “unifying codes of structural relationship...governing the ideal of nineteenth-century bourgeois family existence.”8 In The Belleli Family, the gazes of M. Belleli, Mme. Belleli, and their daughters are pointed in different directions. M. Belleli and Mme. Belleli avoid eye contact, indicating the animosity and tension in the marriage. 9
Degas’ paintings reflect the changes occurring in the familial structure during the second half of the nineteenth century in France. In the beginnings of the bourgeois trauma, “the need for vigorous political control within the state was equated with the need for increased state intervention in the affairs of the family.”10 Bourgeois marriages, which bound couples eternally, were not performed for love, but for social and financial interests. In the marriage, a husband and wife were not meant to live with each other in passion, but with respect. This relationship, lacking the intimacy and passion, became fragmented, with animosity and sadness developing between the husband and wife as seen in Interior with...