If Edgar Degas hadn’t made a single picture or modeled a single sculpture, he would still figure prominently in the history of nineteenth-century art as one of the most passionate, ambitious collectors of his generation. At his death in 1917, he owned more than five hundred paintings and drawings, and over five thousand prints—a special enthusiasm of his—by other artists, most of them acquired obsessively in his last years. He kept this vast hoard in his “musée,” a special room in his studio-house, where the handful of visitors allowed to penetrate the rather prickly artist’s privacy were privileged to view his most prized works, arranged on easels. Degas is supposed to have considered turning this private sanctum into a public museum, but the project remained unrealized. He continued to acquire pictures almost until the end of his life, even when he could no longer afford to do so comfortably, sometimes making...

 
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