Edgar Degas Little Dancer Aged Fourteen 1880–1, cast c.1922

Artwork details

Edgar Degas 1834–1917
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen
Petite danseuse de quatorze ans
Date 1880–1, cast c.1922
Medium Painted bronze with muslin and silk on wooden base
Dimensions Object: 984 x 419 x 365 mm, 31 kg (integral base included)
Acquisition Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 1952
Not on display

Display caption

The model for this sculpture was a ballet student at the Paris Opéra, where Degas often drew and painted. Degas first made a reddish-brown wax sculpture of her in the nude. Then, aiming for a naturalistic effect, he dressed a three-quarter life-size wax sculpture of her in clothing made of real fabrics - cream-coloured silk for the bodice, tulle and gauze for the tutu, and fabric slippers. He also gave it real hair tied with a ribbon. When the wax sculpture was first exhibited, contemporaries were shocked by the unprecedented realism of the piece. But they were also moved by the work's representation of the pain and stress of ballet training endured by a barely adolescent girl.
After Degas' death, his heirs decided in the early 1920s to make bronze casts - nearly thirty of them - of the wax original. In these versions, all is bronze except for the dancer's gauze tutu and silk ribbon. Recent investigation into the casting of this piece has shown how the founders attempted to match the colours and aged appearance of the original wax sculpture, which, by this point, had spent forty years in the artist's studio. Pigmented waxes, ranging in colour from pale orange through pink and brown, were rubbed into the flesh areas. The bodice was painted a cream colour, but a pigmented wax was applied to darken the lower part. The skirt was dipped in a mixture of animal glue and pigment in order to created an aged effect.

August 2004