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Technical Notes: Conclusions

The technical examination of Little Dancer uncovers some of the intricacies of its facture, yet as is often the case, many questions linger. One of the most vexing remains the inspiration for the method of manufacture; it is both traditional and innovative. Degas translated into his own practice the making and modeling of a sculpture from inside out, commencing with a customary metal armature augmented with paintbrushes and springs that he filled with a rope-wrapped organic core bundle, first coated in clay and finally clad in the wax he modeled, tooled, pigmented, and even painted. The fabric, netting, and hair additions came later. Little Dancer is neither a doll, having appendages and head made of wax with mere stuffing for the body, nor an anthropological specimen fashioned with rigorous scientific finesse. Furthermore, such a complex procedure, one he never again duplicated, argues that Degas was not working entirely alone; it is likely that he would have required assistance with technique, or at the very least with procurement of materials. Hence, this work can be added to a growing list of sculpture that required collaboration.[1] Many of the modeling materials employed in the assemblage are the same as those found in other works, yet the final product is unique.[2] Findings addressed herein merely create avenues for further study, some addressed in Lindsay’s entry text below.

The artist, Paris; his five heirs; possibly sold separately from the other lifetime works before 1929 or after 1931, to (A. A. Hébrard, Paris);[3] his widow, Mme A. A. Hébrard, and/or his daughter, Nelly Hébrard, Paris; consigned 1955, with most of the other lifetime works, to (M. Knoedler and Company, Inc., New York); sold May 25, 1956, to Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia.

6me Exposition de peinture . . . , 35, boulevard des Capucines, Paris, 1881, cat. 12 (exh. cat. Impressionist 1881). Galerie A. A. Hébrard, Paris, 1920 (no exh. cat. known).[4] Exposition des Sculptures de Degas, Mai – Juin, 1921, Galerie A. A. Hébrard, Paris, 1921, cat. 73 (exh. cat. Hébrard 1921, annotated addition under “Divers”). Exposition Degas au profit de la ligue franco-anglo-américaine contre le cancer, Galerie Georges Petit and Galerie A. A. Hébrard, Paris, 1924, possibly cat. 290 or not in exh. cat. (exh. cat. Petit 1924).[5] Possibly Trois siècles d’art français, Paris, 1920s – 1930s (no exh. cat. known).[6] Possibly Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1929.[7] Edgar Degas, 1834 – 1917: Original Wax Sculptures, M. Knoedler and Company, Inc., New York, 1955, cat. 20, as Ballet Dancer, Dressed (exh. cat. Knoedler 1955). Sculpture by Degas, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 1956 (no exh. cat.). Art for the Nation: Gifts in Honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, National Gallery of Art, 1991 (exh. cat. Luchs 1991, unnumbered). An Enduring Legacy: Masterpieces from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, 1999 – 2000 (no exh. cat.).

1. Other examples include Study in the Nude of Little Dancer and Woman Rubbing Her Back with a Sponge, Torso.
2. Laser scans were taken of the surface of Little Dancer in all areas except the tutu. With the data collected from the scans, a three-dimensional computer model was created and precise measurements were calculated. In an attempt to evaluate the relationship of some posthumous examples with the original wax, this computer model was compared with those generated from scans taken of the Hébrard plaster Little Dancer, a bronze marked modèle in the Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena (M.1977.02.70), and a serial bronze a from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, (29.100.370). As the results are pertinent to the understanding of the variants, they are discussed in the Technical Notes of the plaster Little Dancer. A group of plasters reported to have been discovered in the Valsuani foundry came to our attention as work on the present catalogue was in progress. They are intentionally not included herein.
3. Negotiations with the Louvre for a Degas gallery include a proposal for A. A. Hébrard to lend Little Dancer for the installation, though it is unclear whether Hébrard acted on behalf of the Degas heirs, as custodian of the material in Paris, or as its owner. The response to the proposal is also unknown. See Anne Pingeot, "Degas and His Castings," in Joseph S. Czestochowski and Anne Pingeot, Degas Sculptures: Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes (Memphis, 2002), 34; Anne Pingeot to Anne Halpern, SGL, and Jean Naudin (Musée nationaux de France), e-mail, March 27, 2003, NGA curatorial files. Paul Jamot, "Preface," in Degas: Portraitiste, sculpteur exh. cat. (Paris, 1931), 13, claims the wax still belonged to the heirs.
4. Adèle Serrière to the dealer-painter Walther Halvorsen, written sometime in April 1920, Durand-Ruel Archives, Paris; [Dikran?] Kelekian to Mary Cassatt, telegram, n.d., both cited in Pingeot 1991, 189.
5. Paul Jamot, Degas (Paris, 1924), 127, states that a bronze cast “plus la statuette en cire de la Petite Danseuse” were exhibited at this joint exhibition, whereas only one, Danseuse habillée, reportedly shown at Galerie A. A. Hébrard (Exposition Degas au profit de la ligue franco-anglo-américaine contre le cancer, exh. cat. [Paris, 1924], cat. 290), is listed in the catalog.
6. An undated photograph (no. 608407) in the H. Roger-Viollet Archives, Paris, shows a Little Dancer in a vitrine in this exhibition, but it is uncertain whether the sculpture is the wax or a bronze. Theodore Reff, "Edgar Degas' 'Little Ballet Dancer of Fourteen Years'" Arts Magazine 51, no. 1 (September 1976): 67, fig. 3, 69 n. 6.
7. Pingeot, "Degas and His Castings," 34; Anne Pingeot to Anne Halpern, SGL, and Jean Naudin, e-mail, March 27, 2003, NGA curatorial files, in which she kindly provides the text of Adèle Serrière’s letter of April 26, 1929, to Paul Vitry, curator at the Louvre: “et nous les remplacerons si vous le désirez par la grande Danseuse habillée que nous pourrions vous prêter avec sa vitrine pour un certain temps” (we will replace them [the bronzes] if you wish with the big dressed Dancer that we could lend you with her vitrine for a time). John Rewald, Degas, Works in Sculpture: A Complete Catalogue, trans. John Coleman and Noel Moulton (New York, 1944), cat. XX, claims the wax is “now in the Louvre,” presumably at the time the book was written and published, 1930s – 1944, perhaps recording an exhibition or indefinite loan around (probably before) the time of the war that actually occurred. Lillian Browse, Degas Dancers (Boston, 1949), cat. 96, and Pierre Michaut, "Immortalized in Sculpture: The Story of Louise Van Gothem," Dance Magazine 38, no. 8 (August 1954): 28, also place the wax at the Louvre, possibly based on Rewald, Degas, Works in Sculpture.

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

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, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1999