In 1863 Degas’s sister Thérèse married her first cousin Edmondo Morbilli, who lived in Naples. This majestic portrait was probably painted in 1865 during the couple’s visit to Paris after the loss of a child expected in early 1864. Thérèse sits, literally and figuratively, in the shadow of her husband, and Degas contrasted her worried expression with Edmondo’s attitude of self-assurance. The artist set off the subtle grays and blacks of their clothing against the simple, ocher-and-gray drapery behind them and the richly embroidered Islamic textile on the table, which recalls portraits from the Italian Renaissance.
This vignette of daily life, set in a nondescript, bourgeois environment, reveals a fascinating interplay of the couples’ relationship: in this depiction, Thérèse remains no more than the shadow of her husband, half hidden...