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Degas's Little Dancer

October 5, 2014 – February 8, 2015
West Building, Main Floor, M-82

Edgar Degas; Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1878–1881; pigmented beeswax, clay, metal armature, rope, paintbrushes, human hair, silk and linen ribbon, cotton and silk tutu, linen slippers, on wooden base; National Gallery of Art, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon


This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

Overview: Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1878–1881), Edgar Degas’s groundbreaking statuette of a young ballerina that caused a sensation at the 1881 impressionist exhibition, takes center stage in an exploration of Degas’s fascination with ballet and his experimental, modern approach to his work. This exhibition is presented in conjunction with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ world-premiere musical Little Dancer, which runs from October 25 through November 30, 2014.

Degas was a keen observer and wry but sympathetic chronicler of the daily life of dancers, depicting their world off-stage, at rehearsal or in the wings. Degas’s Little Dancer showcases this world of gaslight and struggle, as captured by the master.

One of the Gallery’s most popular works of art, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen will be presented with 14 additional works from the Gallery’s collection, including the monumental pastel Ballet Scene (c. 1907), monotypes and smaller original statuettes by Degas that are related to Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. The exhibition also includes the oil painting The Dance Class (c. 1873) from the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

The National Gallery of Art has the largest and most important collection of Degas’s surviving original wax sculptures in the world. Its wax version of Little Dancer Aged Fourteen is the only one formed by the artist’s own hands and the only sculpture he ever showed publicly. Degas did not carve sculpture but used an additive process. Little Dancer Aged Fourteen was modeled in wax over a metal armature, bulked with organic materials including wood, rope, and even old paintbrushes in the arms. Degas elevated the sculpture’s realism by affixing a wig of human hair and giving his ballerina a cotton-and-silk tutu, a cotton faille bodice, and linen slippers.

Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Attendance: 149,237

Brochure: Degas’s Little Dancer, by Alison Luchs and Margaret Doyle. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2014. 

Degas, Edgar
French, 1834 - 1917
Mathey, Paul
French, 1844 - 1929
Edgar Degas
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen
plaster cast possibly 1920/1921, after original wax modelled 1878-1881
Edgar Degas
Study in the Nude of Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (Nude Little Dancer)
c. 1878-1881
Edgar Degas
The Dance Lesson
c. 1879
Edgar Degas
The Curtain
c. 1880
Edgar Degas
Ballet Dancers
c. 1877
Edgar Degas
Dancers at the Old Opera House
c. 1877
Edgar Degas
Ballet Scene
c. 1907
Edgar Degas
Dancer Seen from Behind and Three Studies of Feet
c. 1878
Edgar Degas, executed in collaboration with Vicomte Lepic
The Ballet Master
c. 1876
Paul Mathey
Edgar Degas
Inside Look: Little Dancer Aged Fourteen
Audio, Released: February 10, 2015, (49:59 minutes)
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen
Video, Released: October 28, 2014, (1:20 minutes)
Press Event: Degas's Little Dancer
Audio, Released: September 30, 2014, (15:31 minutes)
"Four Dancers," c. 1899, Edgar Degas
Video, Released: November 1, 2011, (2:18 minutes)
The Sculpture of Edgar Degas at the National Gallery of Art: Launch of a Landmark Publication
Audio, Released: February 15, 2011, (79:07 minutes)
Edgar Degas Sculpture: The Systematic Catalogue
Audio, Released: January 11, 2011, (17:16 minutes)