Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, French, 1834 - 1917. Bronze cast by the foundry Adrien Hébrard, Paris.

Geography:
Made in Paris, France, Europe

Date:
Executed in wax 1878-81; cast in bronze after 1922

Medium:
Bronze, tulle, and silk

Dimensions:
Height: 39 inches (99.1 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting before 1900, Johnson Collection

Object Location:

* Gallery 152, European Art 1850-1900, first floor (Annenberg Galleries; Toll Gallery)

Accession Number:
1986-26-11

Credit Line:
The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986

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Label:
Degas depicted young ballet dancers--in performances, at rehearsals, or at moments of exhausted rest--in numerous paintings, drawings, pastels, and monotypes. In 1878, he added sculpture to his investigation of the theme. A young dancer named Marie van Goethem posed for what would be the only sculpture that Degas exhibited in his lifetime. Originally executed in wax and shown in 1881, the work daringly incorporated real elements such as the dancer's tulle tutu and silk hair ribbon. The sculpture was cast in bronze around 1922, several years after Degas's death.

Additional information:
  • PublicationMasterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art

    The only sculpture exhibited in his lifetime, Degas's Littler Dancer, Aged Fourteen caused a sensation when it was shown in the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881. Modeled in colored wax, the sculpture had real human hair tied with ribbon, a cloth bodice and tutu, and silk ballet slippers, and it was enclosed in a glass case like a display in an ethnographic museum. Challenging contemporary ideas about sculpture in its presentation and use of unconventional, lifelike materials, the work was equally startling for its scandalous subject, an adolescent girl on the verge of becoming a woman. Modeled by a minor dancer named Marie van Goethem, who turned fourteen in 1878, the Little Dancer stands in ballet's fourth position, thrusting her chest and chin forward in an unattractive manner at odds with the elegance and glamour usually associated with the ballet. Deeply interested in dance, Degas spent hours attending rehearsals and studying dancers backstage. He drew Marie, both clothed and nude, from several different angles in preparation for the sculpture. After Degas's death his heirs decided to have his wax sculptures cast in bronze and authorized Adrien Hébrard to make an edition of twenty-two casts. This one retains the original skirt supplied by the foundry. Jennifer A. Thompson, from Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art (2007), p. 58.

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