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Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen
Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, Executed in wax 1878-81; cast in bronze after 1922
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, French
Bronze, tulle, and silk
Height: 39 inches (99.1 cm)
The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986
1986-26-11
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About This Sculpture

This is Edgar Degas’s (French, 1834–1917) most famous sculpture and the only one ever exhibited during his lifetime. Originally executed in wax between 1878 and 1881, this bronze version was cast after his death. The figure is that of a young dancer named Marie van Goethem, whose family lived in the neighborhood of the Paris Opéra; Marie and her sisters attended the Opéra dance school during the 1870s. Degas made a series of sketches of the dancer in his studio in preparation for the wax figure.

The artist presented the wax model of Marie at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881. It was received with shock: Degas used real hair, fabric, and ballet shoes on the statuette. These materials had never been used before in exhibition sculpture. The brown flesh-colored appearance of the wax also stunned viewers, as well as the ballerina’s expression and stance; she looked so ordinary and plain—people expected ballerinas to look beautiful and delicate.

A well-known dancer in Degas’s time could make a good living. For many young girls the rigorous training was worth the effort because it could improve the social and financial position of their families. Marie was paid for the modeling she did for Degas in his studio; however, she failed to attend many of her classes and was eventually dismissed from the school. Marie’s sister, Louise, was also a dancer in training. She was a more serious student and became a respected performer.
 

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