There is, in the Bibliotèque Nationale, a famous photo of Edgar Degas, taken a little before his death by Sacha Guitry or one of his cameramen. In this picture Degas is feeling his way with an umbrella along the Boulevard de Clichy, his eyes hidden by the shadow of his bowler brim. He has just passed his reflection in a piano store window, but he cannot—mercifully—have seen himself. We know that his spirits had declined with his eyesight; one friend remarked that if Degas had been able to make out his image as he looked in old age, he'd have broken the glass that held it. In the photo his beard is long and white, yet somehow it is impossible for us, who so enjoy his late work, to imagine him really enfeebled. We want to think of him as a man whose powers only increased with old age, a virile senescent giant from some Italian fresco.

This is ironic, for people who knew him in his thirties said that he behaved, even...

 
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