La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans is one of the most famous sculptures produced during the 1800s. In a moment that Impressionism was immensely populated by paintings, oils, and pastels, not much was done to innovate the idea of sculpture. Traditional materials like bronze and marble were often used, and the subject matters were also very naturalistic and academic.
This sculpture was created in wax, and this was one of the first things that drew the attention of the artistic medium and the critics. It was first exhibited in the sixth edition of the Impressionist Exhibition, in the year 1881, and it was considered the first real attempt at Modern sculpture. Degas had to rework the artwork, so there is more than one version of it. The original cast is currently part of a private collection in the United States.
It is the sculpture of a young ballerina. Her arms are resting behind her body, but the feet are striking the fourth position pose. She leans her head forward as if paying attention to something, but her facial expression makes it clear that she is either uncomfortable or unwilling to do what she is being told to, and this was another controversial point about this piece. Her hair is pulled back, but not traditionally tied up in a bun, just tied down by a ribbon. Her eyes are looking forward, and her mouth is shut. Her legs are beautifully sculpted into the pose, drawing details on her knees and legs and showing details of her stockings.
The unusual thing about this ballerina is that besides the wax, several different materials were used. She was built with a wig made of real hair. Her corset and shoes are also real, made with cloth and realistic materials. Her skirt is also a real tutu. Everything was then covered in wax, so it was preserved through the years - except the hair ribbon and the tutu.
The sculpture is mostly brown, and her bright colors faded with the years, especially on the details that were not wax covered. The tutu and corset are a faded shade between beige and salmon pink. When this sculpture was created, it received a lot of critics. Unusual materials and an untraditional pose choice made of it a subject of many discussions. Marie van Goethem was the model who posed for this Modern sculpture.
After Edgar Degas’ passing away, his heirs produced bronze copies of the statue, as a way to preserve this beautiful and controversial work.
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