Degas cousin brother
  Rene Degas

  Estelle Musson and René De Gas: 

   Edgar’s Younger Brother Married His First Cousin

Widower, Estelle Musson Balfour, who was interested in her cousin, René De Gas, two years younger than her, moved back to New Orleans after the defeat of the Confederacy in the Spring of 1865 with her sister and mother; accompanied by René. René refused a position in his father’s banking business in Paris and welcomed his uncle Michael Musson’s
offer to work in his cotton firm, Musson, Prestidge & Co., Cotton Factors and Commission Merchants.

René also came to look after the property of his deceased mother, “Fall Back”, a cotton plantation near New Orleans, which Michael Musson, executor, liquidated and sold - full of mortgages. From a short visit to Paris, René returned to New Orleans in 1866 accompanied by his brother Achille and established a business called De Gas Brothers, importing
and exporting wine and cotton.

René’s intention was also to ask his uncle, Michael Musson, for the hand of his daughter, but upon his return found Estelle stricken by ophthalmia. But this did not stop the young lovers. On June 17 1869, René married his first cousin, Estelle. Of their five children: Michael Pierre, born in 1870; Odile, in 1871; Jeanne, born during Edgar Degas’s visit to New Orleans
in 1872; Edgar Achille Gaston, in 1875 and René Henri, in 1876, only Odile and Edgar Gaston survived the illnesses in   the 19th century in the States.

René’s misfortune continued. Not only did he borrow money from his father, Auguste De Gas, which contributed to the lost of most of his family’s fortune and bank in Paris, when he could not repay his debt; he also eloped with his neighbor, America Durrive Olivier, on April 13, 1878, one year after the death of his last son with Estelle.

The Olivier and Musson families were friends and neighbors with children the same age. America read newspapers and books to Estelle, who was slowly going blind. She also instructed Estelles’ children in the basics of piano and was
the godmother of René and Estelle’s son, Gaston De Gas. After obtaining false divorce papers, the couple married, bigamously, in Cleveland, Ohio. René then legally married America Oliver in New York after divorcing Estelle. In 1879, René De Gas returned to France with his second wife, America, with her first two children, Odile and Frederic, from her previous marriage. They had three children of their own, Maurice, Edmond and Odette.

In 1883, Michael Musson, René’s father-in-law, adopted his grandchildren, Odile and Gaston, changing their last name to Musson while retaining DeGas as their middle names. They became Odile DeGas-Musson and Edgar Achille Gaston DeGas-Musson. The children never saw their father, René, again.

René never succeeded in business, but did reconcile with Edgar. When Edgar Degas died in 1917, René inherited half of his estate. The children of the De Gas family in Paris were never aware of their surviving half-brother Gaston and half-sister Odile from New Orleans until they contacted the French court to contest the will after René’s death.

Estelle died in 1909, eight years before the painter. René died in 1921; a great part of his inheritance after ten years was divided between the two surviving families – the De Gas-Mussons in New Orleans and the three remaining children – the De Gas-Oliviers in Paris.

Jean Baptiste        René De Gas
by Degas, 1861, Etching
New Orleans Museum of Art,
Museum purchase through the Ella West Freeman Foundation Matching Fund

Estelle Musson Degas


Fig 12.                             Estelle Musson          Degas (standing)
(Désirée her sister  
seated)                         Washburn, photo
Cabinet portrait, New Orleans.
Collection of Edmund B. Martin

  Estelle De Gas was one of Edgar’s favorite model from the          Musson Family


Portrait of Mme Rene De Gas

Women with a Vase Madame Rene De Gas  
  Fig. 13.
Portrait of Mme René De Gas,
nee Estelle Musson
by Degas, 1872-73,         Oil on canvas
New Orleans Museum of Art: Museum Purchased through Public Subscription
Fig. 14.
Women with a Vase of Flowers
by Degas, 1872-73, Oil on canvas
Estelle Musson De Gas
(Edgar’s cousin/sister-in-law)
Musee d’Orsay, Paris
  Fig. 15.
Madame René De Gas

by Degas, 1872-73, Oil on canvas
Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Fig. 12. Degas and New Orleans: A French Impressionist in American, 1999, New Orleans Museum of Art, page 87.
Fig. 13. Degas and New Orleans: A French Impressionist in American, 1999, New Orleans Museum of Art, page 211.
Fig. 14. Degas and New Orleans: A French Impressionist in American, 1999, New Orleans Museum of Art, page 209.
Fig. 15. Degas and New Orleans: A French Impressionist in American, 1999, New Orleans Museum of Art, page 210.