EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
5 More
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
8 More
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Petite danseuse de quatorze ans

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
Petite danseuse de quatorze ans
stamped with foundry mark 'A.A.HEBRARD CIRE PERDUE' (on her left thigh)
bronze with brown patina with muslin skirt and satin hair ribbon on wooden base
Height (excluding base): 40 1⁄2 in. (102.9 cm.)
Original wax model executed circa 1879-1881; this bronze version cast in 1927
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Liebman, New York (commissioned from the Hébrard foundry, August 1927); sale, Parke Bernet Galleries, New York, 7 December 1955, lot 41.
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York (acquired at the above sale).
Mrs. Charles S. Payson, New York (acquired from the above, 7 December 1955).
Sandra Payson, New York (by descent from the above, 1975).
Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York (acquired from the above).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 17 May 1985.
P. Mantz, "Exposition des oeuvres des artistes indépendants" in Le Temps, 1881, p. 3.
J.-K. Huysmans, L'art moderne, Paris, 1883, pp. 226-227.
J.-K. Huysmans, L'art moderne, Paris, 1908, pp. 250-251.
P. Gsell, "Edgar Degas, statuaire" in La Renaissance de l'art français et des industries de luxe, December 1918, pp. 374-376 (wax version illustrated, p. 375; titled La danseuse habillée).
P. Lafond, Degas, Paris, 1919, vol. II, pp. 64-66.
P.-A. Lemoisne, "Les statuettes de Degas" in Art et décoration, Paris, 1919, pp. 111-113 (wax version illustrated, p. 112).
"L'Actualité" in L'art et les artistes, December 1922, no. 32, p. 158 (another cast illustrated).
J. Meier-Graefe, Degas, London, 1923, p. 60.
P. Jamot, Degas, Paris, 1924, pp. 113 and 149 (wax version illustrated, pl. 52).
A. Vollard, Degas, Paris, 1924, pp. 111-112.
G. Bazin, "Degas sculpteur" in L'amour de l'art, 1931, pp. 294-295 (another cast illustrated, fig. 70; detail of another cast illustrated, fig. 71).
G. Grappe, Degas, Paris, 1936, p. 58 (wax version illustrated; dated 1880).
L. Venturi, Les archives de l'Impressionnisme, Paris, 1939, vol. II, p. 138, letter 31.
M. Rebatet, Degas, Paris, 1944 (another cast illustrated, pl. 102).
J. Rewald, Degas: Works in SculptureA Complete Catalogue, New York, 1944, pp. 6-8, 14, 15 and 21, no. XX (another cast illustrated, pp. 63-69).
P.-A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1946, p. 128 (another cast illustrated, p. 129).
L. Browse, Degas Dancers, London, 1949, p. 370, no. 96 (another cast illustrated, pls. 96-97).
P.-A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1954, p. 113.
J. Rewald, Degas: Sculpture, New York, 1957, pp. 16-20 and 114-145 (other casts illustrated, pls. 24-29).
P. Cabanne, Edgar Degas, New York, 1958, pp. 66-67 (another cast illustrated).
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. Payson, New York, 1960 (illustrated in color).
L.W. Havemeyer, Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector, New York, 1961, pp. 264-265.
J. Rewald, The History of Impressionism, New York, 1961, p. 451 (other casts illustrated).
H.H. Arnason, History of Modern Art, New York, 1968, p. 68, no. 97 (another cast illustrated).
F. Russoli and F. Minervino, L'opera completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, p. 145, no. S73 (another cast illustrated).
J. Adhémar and F. Cachin, Edgar Degas: Gravures et monotypes, Paris, 1973, p. XXXI.
C.W. Millard, The Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Princeton, 1976, pp. 27-39, 80-82, 98-99 and 119-126 (another cast illustrated, fig. 26).
T. Reff, Degas: The Artist's Mind, New York, 1976, pp. 239-248 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 240, fig. 157).
I. Dunlop, Degas, New York, 1979, p. 180 (another cast illustrated in color, fig. 172).
M. Guillaud, ed., Degas: Form and Space, Paris, 1984, p. 180 (another cast illustrated in color, fig. 155; plaster version illustrated in color, p. 183, fig. 157).
G.T.M. Shackelford, Degas, The Dancers, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1984, pp. 65-76 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 64).
H.W. Janson, Nineteenth-Century Sculpture, London, 1985, pp. 193-194 (another cast illustrated, fig. 219; dated 1881).
R. McMullen, Degas: His Life, Times and Work, London, 1985, pp. 333-336 and 338-339 (another cast illustrated, p. 333; dated 1880-1881).
D. Sutton, Edgar Degas: Life and Work, New York, 1986, p. 187 (another cast illustrated, p. 186, pl. 169).
F. Weitzenhoffer, The HavemeyersImpressionism Comes to America, New York, 1986, pp. 242-243 and 256 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 256, fig. 166; dated circa 1881).
R. Thomson, The Private Degas, London, 1987, pp. 80-86 (another cast illustrated, p. 83, pl. 110).
R. Gordon and A. Forge, Degas, London, 1988, pp. 206-207 (another cast illustrated).
J. Heilpern, “The Bass Reserve” in Vogue, December 1988, p. 345 (illustrated in color in situ in Mrs. Bass's home).
J. Sutherland Boggs, Degas, exh. cat., Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1988, pp. 350-352, no. 227 (another cast illustrated, p. 351).
A. Roquebert, Degas, Paris, 1988, p. 55 (another cast illustrated, fig. 62).
R. Thomson, Degas: The Nudes, London, 1988, pp. 119-121, 125 and 179 (another cast illustrated, pl. 113).
C. Irvine, Remarkable Private New York Residences, New York, 1990, p. 11 (illustrated in color in situ in Mrs. Bass's home, p. 14).
J. Rewald, Degas’s Complete Sculpture: A Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1990, pp. 16-19, 35 and 78-79, no. XX (another cast illustrated in color, p. 35; other casts illustrated, pp. 78-79; wax version illustrated, p. 78).
H. Loyrette, Degas, Paris, 1991, pp. 387, 391-394, 402, 612-614 and 672.
A. Pingeot and F. Horvat, Degas Sculptures, Paris, 1991, pp 188-190, no. 73 (another cast illustrated in color on the cover; other casts illustrated, pp. 34-35 and 188-189).
J.P. O'Neill, ed., Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1993, pp. 77-79 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 78).
S. Campbell, “Degas, The Sculptures: A Catalogue Raisonné" in Apollo, August 1995, pp. 46-47 (another cast illustrated, p. 46; wax version illustrated, p. 64).
J. Sutherland Boggs, Degas, New York, 1996, p. 44 (wax version illustrated, fig. 14).
M. Kahane, D. Pinasa, W. Piollet and S. Campbell, "Enquête sur la Petite danseuse de quatorze ans de Degas" in La revue du Musée d'Orsay, Paris, autumn 1998, no. 7, p. 69, no. 12 (illustrated in color, p. 70; other casts illustrated, p. 63, figs. 20a-c, p. 65, figs. 21a-b and 22, p. 66; other casts illustrated in color, p. 68, figs. 16-17 and pp. 70-71, nos. 1-30).
R. Kendall, Degas and the Little Dancer, exh. cat., Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, 1998, pp. 25-106 (plaster version illustrated in color on the cover, p. 45, p. 101, fig. 71, p. 107, fig. 82 and p. 155, no. 45; another cast illustrated in color on the back cover, p. 100, fig. 70 and p. 154, no. 44; detail of plaster version illustrated in color on the frontispiece; wax version illustrated in color, p. viii; detail of wax version illustrated in color, p. 76; details of plaster version illustrated, p. 104, fig. 77, p. 105, figs. 78 and 79 and p. 108, figs. 83 and 85; detail of wax version illustrated, p. 108, fig. 84).
J.S. Czestochowski and A. Pingeot, ed., Degas Sculptures: Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes, New York, 2002, pp. 18 and 20-21 (other casts illustrated, figs. 8, 11 and 12); pp. 86-95 (another cast and details of another cast illustrated, figs. 1-10); pp. 100-105 (another cast illustrated, figs. 1-2); pp. 264-267, no. 73 (other casts illustrated; another cast illustrated in color on the cover and frontispiece).
W. Hofmann, Degas. A Dialogue of Difference, London, 2007, p. 186, no. 143 (another cast illustrated in color).
S. Campbell, R. Kendall, D. Barbour and S. Sturman, Degas in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California, 2009, vol. II, pp. 278-285, no. 47 (other casts illustrated in color, pp. 279-281; with incorrect provenance).
D. Hampton, Mark Hampton: An American Decorator, New York, 2009, p. 132 (illustrated in color in situ in Mrs. Bass's home, p. 133).
R. Kendall and J. Devonyar, Degas and the Ballet, Picturing Movement, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2011, pp. 72-84 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 70, fig. 25 and pp. 84-85, fig. 26).
G. Hedberg, Degas' Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen: The Earlier Version that Helped Spark the Birth of Modern Art, Stutgart, 2016 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 15, figs. 7-8 and p. 35, figs 22-23; detail of another cast and plaster version illustrated in color, p. 23, figs. 14-15, p. 27, figs. 19-20, p. 41, figs. 33 and 35 and p. 43, figs. 38-39; detail of another cast illustrated in color, p. 26, fig. 18 and p. 40, fig. 32; another cast illustrated, p. 37, figs. 24-26; another cast and plaster version illustrated in color, p. 39, figs. 28 and 30).

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Edgar Degas’s Petite danseuse de quatorze ans is one of the most recognizable sculptures of modern art. It is the largest work in this medium that the artist ever produced, and the only one that he chose to exhibit in his lifetime. Formally innovative, as well as iconographically daring, this two-thirds life-size depiction of a young ballet dancer caused a sensation when the original wax version was first exhibited in 1881 at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in Paris, and continues to compel audiences to this day. Evoking a curious combination of compassion and intrigue, this iconic sculpture is a synthesis of Degas’s extensive work on his beloved theme of the dance, a visual encapsulation of the conflicting concepts of artifice and reality that define so much of his art. Just as the dancer stands in a pose of insistent defiance, so too this work can be regarded as a bold visual manifesto: an embodiment of the artist’s own, resolute avant-garde independence, and a demonstration of his unceasing fascination with the human form.
Petite danseuse de quatorze ans was originally made in wax, which the artist carefully modeled, adding meticulous detail—even the folds of the dancer’s tights gathered behind her knees were sensitively rendered—before coloring the wax so as to simulate real flesh. Degas finally dressed this figure in real life accoutrements: a dancer’s cotton faille bodice, linen ballet slippers, a tarlatan tutu comprised of several layers of netting, as well as a wig of real hair, which he scooped into a braid tied with a silk ribbon. This original wax version was never cast in bronze during the artist’s lifetime (it is now held in The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). It was only after his death that twenty-nine casts were made, the majority of which now reside in museums across the world.
Unlike many of the dancers who feature in Degas’s myriad works on this theme, the identity of the model for the Petite danseuse is known. Marie van Goethem was a daughter of a Belgian tailor and a laundress who lived on the rue de Douai, not far from Degas on the lower slopes of Montmartre. Together with her two sisters, Antoinette and Louise-Joséphine, Marie was a ballet student at the Paris Opéra, one of the many young girls, “petits rats de l’opéra,” as they were known, who sought to one day perform on the hallowed stage of this revered institution.
With her petite stature, long legs and arms, and elegant poise, Marie had the ideal proportions for a ballerina. Supposedly proud of her dark hair that she wore loose when she danced, she survived the unrelenting rigors and intense competition of her profession to perform in two Opéra ballets, La Korrigane in 1880, and Namouna in 1882. After this, she dropped out of the Opéra school due to a lack of attendance; she was later mentioned in a newspaper column of 1887, as a “model…for painters, who is frequently seen at the Brasserie des Martyrs, the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes, and the bar of Le Rat Mort” (quoted in R. Kendall, Degas and the Little Dancer, exh. cat., Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, 1998, p. 15).
Marie’s identity was established thanks to a note that Degas inscribed on one of the preparatory drawings for the sculpture (Vente III: 341.2; Musée d’Orsay, Paris). Since she turned fourteen in June of 1879, it is thought that Marie likely worked for Degas over the course of the two or so year period in which he conceived and created the Petite danseuse. While she featured in the host of drawings, as well as a nude sculpture (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), their artistic relationship went beyond this body of work, with Marie thought to have also served as the model for several other pastels and paintings made around the same time, including Danseuse au repos (Lemoisne, no. 573; Private collection) and La leçon de danse (Lemoisne, no. 479; Philadelphia Museum of Art).
Degas’s remarkable first foray into the medium of sculpture was accompanied by a fascinating series of drawings in charcoal, chalk or pastel through which he likely conceived of his ambitious and daring sculptural project. There exist nine sheets that relate to the finished work, many of which show the figure regarded from multiple angles, as if Degas was formulating his sculptural approach (see J. Sutherland Boggs, Degas, exh. cat., Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1988, p. 345). The first two show Marie full-length, both dressed and nude, with her arms placed across her chest as she reaches to adjust her dress strap (Lemoisne, no. 599, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Vente III: 369, Private collection).
Over the course of his research, Degas must have hit upon the pose—known as “casual fourth position”—that the Petite danseuse is shown holding, for in the second group of seven directly associated sheets, he explored this position exclusively, picturing his model in full-length, again nude and clothed, from a variety of viewpoints, her arms stretched behind her and hands clasped tightly together (Vente III: 277, Private collection; Vente III: 386, Private collection; Vente IV: 287.1, Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo; Lemoisne, no. 586ter, The Art Institute of Chicago; and Lemoisne, no. 586bis, The Morgan Library and Museum, New York). Studies of her head, torso and arms also feature on the sheet inscribed with her name and address (Vente III: 341.2; Musée d’Orsay), and a single drawing exists of studies of just her slippered feet (Vente III: 149; Private collection).
That Degas chose a pose for his dancer that is neither a formal ballet position nor a wholly relaxed posture is not surprising. In his works on the theme of the dance, Degas reveled in capturing these unselfconscious, unplanned movements, spurning the perfection of the performance to instead provide glimpses of his models caught off guard. Marie is shown in one such moment: her eyes appear half closed, as if she is lost in a moment of reverie, or perhaps exhaustion. Nothing Degas did was spontaneous or the result of whimsy. After years studying dancers, he most likely would have carefully invented this indefinable pose to purposefully defy expectation or identification.
Degas had initially intended to show the sculpture in the Fifth Impressionist exhibition held in March 1880. He announced its inclusion in the catalogue, but at the last minute, and for reasons unknown, decided to withdraw it from the show, instead deciding, in a radical move that remains as daring today as it was in 1880, to leave only the work’s glass vitrine on display. One critic, Gustave Goetschy, lamented on 6 April 1880: “Everything M. Degas produces interests me so keenly that I delayed by one day the publication of this article to tell you about a wax statuette that I hear is marvelous and represents a fourteen-year-old dancer, modeled from life, wearing real dance slippers and a bouffant skirt composed of real fabric. But Degas isn’t an ‘Indépendant’ for nothing! He is an artist who produces slowly, as he pleases, and at his own pace, without concerning himself about exhibitions. All the worse for us!” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1988, p. 343).
Anticipation therefore grew around the Sixth Impressionist exhibition held the following spring. Titled simply Petite danseuse de quatorze ans (statuette en cire), Degas added the work two weeks after the exhibition opened, its late inclusion serving only to heighten the wave of consternation, adoration, and condemnation with which the work was met by viewers. “Paris could scarcely maintain its equilibrium,” Louisine Havemeyer recalled. “His name was on all lips, his statue discussed by all the art world” (quoted in T. Reff, Degas: The Artist’s Mind, New York, 1976, p. 239). James McNeill Whistler reportedly “uttered sharp cries and gesticulated in front of the case which enclosed the wax figurine,” while Pierre-Auguste Renoir said to Mary Cassatt that this work proved Degas was “a sculptor capable of rivalling the ancients” (quoted in C.W. Millard, The Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Princeton, 1976, p. 28).
Petite danseuse earned a host of vociferous supporters and detractors. The unprecedented verisimilitude led the critic J.-K. Huysmans to declare it was, “the only truly modern attempt I know in sculpture,” proclaiming, “The fact is that at one fell swoop, M. Degas has overthrown the traditions of sculpture, as he has for a long time been shaking up the conventions of painting” (quoted in G.T.M. Shackelford, Degas, The Dancers, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1984, p. 676). Charles Ephrussi lauded the sculpture as, “a truly modern effort,” while Nina de Villard predicted that it would become “the leading expression of a new art” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 45).
Many also condemned this level of realism. Although the life-like quality of the sculpture’s tinted wax surface provoked some comment, the most innovative and audacious feature of the work was its incorporation of actual articles of clothing, which made it seem at once illusory and real. These sartorial elements—which anticipate the use of found materials in Cubism and Dada—constituted an overt challenge to the accepted criteria of sculpture in the late nineteenth century. Contemporary viewers were affronted. Some critics compared the dressed wax figure to a doll, a puppet, or a shop mannequin.
With its distinctive facial features and adolescent anatomy, the Petite danseuse also represented a striking contrast to the classicized, figurative sculpture of Degas’s day. Eschewing academic tradition, Degas carefully reproduced Marie’s physiognomy, making no attempt to idealize the idiosyncratic features of her face and body. Instead he captured, “the nervous curvature of the legs, the solid ankles enclosed in worn shoes, the bony torso—as supple as steel,” as one shocked critic described the work (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 19).
Yet it was not just the physical appearance of this daring sculpture that caused consternation: her identity as a dancer and all that this signified to Parisian audiences at this time was also radical. Indeed, in his frank depiction of this little dancer, Degas was consciously and purposefully reveling in a subject loaded with meaning. It is hard to fathom now the central role that the Opéra played in Paris throughout the nineteenth century. The ballet dancers, abonnés, spectators, as well as the performances themselves filled gossip columns and critical reviews, inspired illustrations, serial stories, and novels, spawning a cult of personality akin to the Golden Age of Hollywood in the twentieth century, as Richard Kendall has explained (ibid., p. 16).
The Opéra was not solely a cultural and artistic institution of the highest measure, it was also a hotbed of state sanctioned vice. It was well known that the wealthy aristocrats, politicians, and other high ranking men of Second Empire and subsequently Third Republic Paris frequented the Opéra to make the acquaintance of the ballet dancers, such liaisons often conducted under the guise of patronage. Indeed, Charles Garnier’s ornate Palais Garnier had a foyer de danse, a green-room type area created to allow male attendees to mingle with the performers. The notorious “Préfet de la Seine,” the renovator of modern Paris as we know it today, Baron Haussmann, famously began an affair with a ballet dancer at the Opéra, and Degas’s own brother Achille, had made headlines when he fired a gun at the husband of his former ballet dancer mistress.
The ballerina that Degas depicted in Petite danseuse stood as an archetype for the young dancers who were in training to become fully fledged members of one of the quadrailles of the Opéra. Often from working class families, these “petits rats” embodied the lure of stardom and the poverty of its pursuit—not only the training but the long term prospects of this profession. The dancers often fell into a life of prostitution, as fictionalized at around the same time by Degas’s friend, Ludovic Halévy’s novel, La Famille Cardinale.
Those who saw this sculpture would have recognized exactly the realities of her profession. As Ephrussi wrote, she represented, “the Opéra rat in her modern form, learning her craft, with all her disposition and stock of bad instincts and licentious inclinations” (quoted in ibid., p. 21). In the same vein, Paul Mantz described the dancer’s expression as one of “brutish insolence,” and asked, “Why is her forehead, as are her lips, so profoundly marked by vice?” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1988, p. 343). The idea that these moral ambiguities, as well as the viewers’ complicity in ignoring the harsh realities of the dancers’ situations, should become the subject of modern art was unacceptable for many visitors, their shock reminiscent of the outcry that greeted Edouard Manet’s Olympia, and its direct, unambiguous implication of the viewer within the scene of prostitution, some decades prior. The glittering veneer of the ballet was what nineteenth century Parisians wanted to see: star-like dancers flitting through the air, not the seedier underworld of which the youthful, defiant little dancer was a part.
Following the 1881 Impressionist Exhibition, the wax version of the Petite danseuse remained in Degas’s studio until his death in 1917. It was never again exhibited during his lifetime, nor reproduced in any form. The possibility of casting the sculpture arose in 1903 when the celebrated Impressionist collector Louisine Havemeyer attempted to purchase the wax original. Degas was concerned about parting with it on account of its condition and proposed producing a bronze or plaster cast instead. Although the sale did not come to fruition, several references in Degas’s correspondence—in particular, a letter to the sculptor Albert Bartholomé that begins: “My dear friend, and perhaps caster...”—indicate that the artist seriously considered casting the sculpture at this time.
In the end, however, the casting of the Petite danseuse was not begun until 1918, when Degas’s heirs contracted the founder Adrien Hébrard to produce limited bronze editions of all seventy-four wax sculptures found during the posthumous inventory of the artist’s studio. The first complete set of bronzes, including the Petite danseuse, was finished in 1921 and purchased by Louisine Havemeyer.
A total of twenty-nine bronze casts of the sculpture have been identified, over half of which are exhibited today in major museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Tate, London, and the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Fourteen casts are each stamped with their own letter (A through S, with several examples missing), and eleven are unlettered; one is marked HER.D., and two are marked HER, indicating that they were to be reserved for Degas’s heirs and for the foundry, respectively. A final example, marked modèle, is housed in the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena, and two plaster versions can be found in the Joslyn Art Museum, and The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

More from The Collection of Anne H. Bass

View All
View All