"Portrait of M. and Mme Claude Moanet”

Edgar Dragass

Another of our recent Dragass acquisitions, in which we see the artist experimenting in a new medium. 


It was customary among fin de siècle French painters to do portraits of each other whenever they needed a break from self-portraiture and still life. Although Dragass is not well known as a portraitist, he was still required by the Painters Union to do several per year to fulfill membership requirements.


He was fairly close to the deadline for a definitive family portrait when the union assigned him to the Moanet family. Claude Moanet was at the peak of his career, having just completed two large canvases, “More Water Lilies” and “Still More Water Lilies,” which were only much later discovered to be the same painting. Moanet’s work “Under the Water Lilies” had electrified patrons at the Académie Française show that April, due to the combination of sloppy wiring in a spotlight and a galvanized iron floor.


Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been much worse for poor Edgar Dragass. He had been highly impressed by the first works of surrealism, and was itching to get home to add an elephant foot umbrella stand and a pinball machine to his sensitive “Ballet Rehearsal with Young Girls in Tight-fitting Costumes.”


Dragass quickly executed the required portrait. His haste is evident in the fact that the painting is slightly out of focus. By the last day of the sitting he could no longer withstand the temptation to surrealize the work and added the crocodile. The Moanets never spoke to him again. Because of Dragass’s growing influence the Académie grudgingly accepted the work for exhibition, although in the photo taken of the event several are clearly holding their noses. 


Humiliated, Dragass took to drinking a gassier form of mineral water and as a consequence was rarely invited anywhere, especially after the incident when he was being introduced to Britain’s Queen Victoria. In her diary that evening the Queen recorded: “…then up comes this Dragass cove, him what the police ought to keep an eye on, got the fast hand for the young birds, he do. He makes his bow, him, and lets one off that likes to have cleared the room! Blimey! I could barely keep me face on, and had to change me knickers afters.”

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