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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
1918
Gsell, Paul. "Edgar Degas, statuaire." La Renaissance de l'Art Français et des Industries de Luxe (December 1918): 377.
1919
Lemoisne, Paul-André. "Les statuettes de Degas." Art et Décoration 214 (September-October 1919): 109, 115, repro.
1921
Janneau, Guillaume. "Les Sculptures de Degas." La Renaissance de l'Art Français et des Industries de Luxe (July 1921): 353, repro.
1931
Bazin, Germain. "Degas sculpteur." L'Amour de l'art 7 (July 1931): 295, fig. 72.
1949
Borel, Pierre. Les Sculptures inédites de Degas. Geneva, 1949: n.p., repro.
1956
Rewald, John. Degas Sculpture: The Complete Works. Translated by John Coleman and Noel Moulton. New York, 1956: no. XXVII.
1976
Millard, Charles W. The Sculpture of Edgar Degas. Princeton, 1976: 9-10, 38, 63, 68-69, 75, 80, 107-108, 114, fig. 92.
1986
Degas: Scultore. Exh. cat. Centro Mostre di Firenze [Palazzo Strozzi, Florence], 1986: 94, no. 26, repro.
1988
Boggs, Jean Sutherland, et al. Degas. Exh. cat. Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1988: no. 287, fig. 264.
1988
Failing, Patricia. "Cast in Bronze: The Degas Dilemma." Art News 87, no. 1 (January 1988): 138-139, repro.
1991
Pingeot, Anne. Degas Sculptures. Paris, 1991: no. 56, repro.
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
Barbour, Daphne, and Shelley Sturman. "Degas' Women in Washington: Four Case Studies." In From Marble to Chocolate: The Conservation of Modern Sculpture, edited by Jackie Heuman, 31-38. London, 1995: 36, figs. 6, 7 (radiograph).
1995
Campbell, Sara. "A Catalogue of Degas' Bronzes." Apollo 142 (August 1995): 10-48, no. 26.
1995
Sturman, Shelley, and Daphne Barbour. "The Materials of the Sculptor: Degas' Techniques." Apollo (1995): 53, figs. 17, 18.
2002
Czestochowski, Joseph S., and Anne Pingeot. Degas--Sculptures. Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes. Memphis, 2002: 82, 173, figs. 17, 18, repro.
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.
2017
Barbour, Daphne, and Shelley Sturman. "Casting Degas's Sculpture into Bronze: A Closer Look" In Degas, Daphne Barbour and Suzanne Quillen Lomax, eds. Facture. Conservation, Science, Art History 3 (2017): 78-111, esp. 86-88, fig. 8.
2017
Lomax, Suzanne Quillen, Barbara H. Berrie, and Michael Palmer. "Edgar Degas's Wax Sculptures: Characterization and Comparison with Contemporary Practice." In Degas, Daphne Barbour and Suzanne Quillen Lomax, eds. Facture. Conservation, Science, Art History 3 (2017): 50-77, esp. 71, fig. 19.
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