In the late summer of 1885 Edgar Degas (1834-1917) traveled north from Paris to join his friends for a seaside holiday. His destination was Dieppe, a picturesque town on the Normandy coast. While relaxing with the family of writer Ludovic Halévy, he created a large pastel drawing of six male figures. They included Halévy and his young son Daniel; the painters Henri Gervex, Jacques-Émile Blanche, and Walter Sickert; and "a man of taste," Albert Boulanger-Cavé. This exhibition reveals the story of Six Friends at Dieppe, a remarkable group portrait that represents a unique performance of art and friendship.
The fishing port of Dieppe on the Normandy coast of France became a popular vacation spot in the early years of the nineteenth century. Within easy access from Paris by train, it could also be reached by the steamers that crossed the English Channel. Dieppe's transformation into a chic watering place began in the 1820s under the patronage of Caroline, Duchesse de Berry, who encouraged the construction of fashionable bathing huts and a public spa. By mid-century the first of Dieppe's casinos buzzed with activity and the wide stretch of land to the west of the port gave way to an avenue of grand hotels and a broad promenade. The beachfront was further enhanced when Dieppe was discovered by the court of Emperor Louis-Napoléon III, which prompted Empress Eugénie to design grassy lawns for leisurely strolls and sporting activities. By 1885, the third version of the casino, a Moorish fantasy, was already under construction, and the town's summer colony boasted a fascinating mix of artists, writers, and international society.