Why Degas did not exhibit this figure in 1880, when Goetschy’s sources suggest it was in a relatively finished state — and with a finished vitrine — remains unknown. The changes to what is now the core, discussed by Sturman and Barbour in the Technical Notes above, suggest he revised its characterization, possibly shifting from the coarser, more “simian” features seen in certain studies (see fig. 14, foreground, right) to the more delicate traits seen here.
Work in Progress: Drawings and Other Sculpture
Given the lack of useful letters or documents, scholars typically use a large body of drawings and a nude sculptural variant to map Little Dancer’s development, a process that raises important questions about how they fundamentally relate to the larger figure and to each other. Close to ten sheets, some with multiple studies, have been associated with both figures — few, curiously, in the relevant notebooks.
Scholars have proposed various relationships between the drawings and sculpture over time. Some suggest traditional stages of image-building to assert that the drawings are for a sculpture, with the nude studies executed before the dressed ones, leading to the definitive dressed wax. Kendall asserts that Degas returned temporarily to his earlier practice of working from the nude before turning to the dressed model because he faced an “unfamiliar challenge,” followed by a close sequence of life drawings from several viewpoints that fixed the figure three-dimensionally. Shackelford sees the drawings (for him so formally and technically consistent that they suggest a “suite” of drawings) as the wellspring for the sculpture, with the nude figure as an intermediate study. None of the drawings was made deliberately for a sculpture, he argues; rather, they pursued Degas’s broader longtime interest in three-dimensionality.