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Overview

Degas exhibited only one sculpture during his lifetime, the wax Little Dancer Fourteen Years Old (Dressed Ballet Dancer), at the Sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881. (A plaster cast from this wax is in the National Gallery of Art's collection.) Many critics reacted with shock to its subject, which they found harshly realistic and even ugly, and to its unconventional incorporation of actual, rather than sculpturally imitated, fabric and hair.

In his other sculptures, not meant for exhibition, Degas worked less in pursuit of perfect forms than in restless exploration of movement and composition. Using soft, pliable materials, he built up his figures on makeshift armatures reinforced with brush handles, matches, or whatever else was at hand. The waxes, whose lumpish surfaces leave his labor visible, have a translucent character that conveys an astonishing sense of life.

Like the Little Dancer, The Tub employs actual as well as represented materials. The figure may be wax, the water plaster, but they occupy a real lead basin resting on a wooden base covered with plaster-soaked rags. In a bird's-eye view, the circular tub and square base create a foil for the convoluted twists of the figure. The result is an intriguing interplay of two-dimensional geometric shapes and three-dimensional natural forms.

Provenance

The artist [1834-1917]; his heirs;[1] Adrien-Aurélien Hébrard [1865-1937], Paris;[2] his daughter, Nelly Hébrard [1904-1985], Paris;[3] consigned 1955 to (M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., New York); purchased May 1956 by Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia; gift 1985 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1955
Edgar Degas 1834-1917: Original Wax Sculptures, M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., New York, 1955, no. 26, repro.
1956
Sculpture by Degas, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 1956.
1999
An Enduring Legacy: Masterpieces from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999-2000, no cat.
Bibliography
1991
Pingeot, Anne. Degas Sculptures. Paris, 1991: no. 56.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 305, repro.
1994
Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 70, repro.
1995
Campbell, Sara. "A Catalogue of Degas' Bronzes." Apollo 142 (August 1995): 10-48, no. 26.
2010
Lindsay, Suzanne Glover, Daphne S. Barbour, and Shelley G. Sturman. Edgar Degas Sculpture. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2010: no. 42, 253-258, color repro.