Radiography (fig. 1) reveals that the figure is made from a homogeneous modeling material, identified using GC as beeswax, over a plaster core, and supported on plaster and wooden bases. The arms, also beeswax, were modeled separately over twisted wire, identified using XRF as galvanized iron, and attached to the shoulders. Like Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, Study in the Nude of Little Dancer Aged Fourteen is distinguished in scale and facture from all other sculpture by Degas in the remnant corpus. Furthermore, the complexity of manufacture evident in this work argues that Degas was assisted by a mold-maker as he fabricated this statuette.
Degas began his sculpture by modeling in clay or wax. From this original version, now lost, a mold in plaster was probably taken. If a primary plaster sculpture was cast and a gelatin mold created from it in order to reproduce multiple versions of the same sculpture, no evidence exists today. However, the fact that lifetime plasters assembled from piece molds exist proves that Degas did use mold-makers. Beyond the obvious desire to capture his work in a more durable medium, Degas’s reasons for molding this work are speculative.
It is tempting to suggest that Degas created this sculpture with a particular purpose in mind. One possibility is that it was made for Louisine Havemeyer, who tried unsuccessfully to purchase Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. In 1903 Mary Cassatt wrote to Paul Durand-Ruel: “I have just received a letter from Mrs. Havemeyer about the statue [Little Dancer]. She will have nothing but the original, and she tells me that Degas, on the pretext that the wax has blackened, wants to do it all over in bronze or plaster with wax on the surface.” However, bismuth identified in the wax matrix, described later in the Technical Notes, links this sculpture chronologically with The Schoolgirl, dating it to the late 1870s, as Lindsay proposes.