Degas sculptor and the daring realism of the 14 year old dancer

Degas sculptor and the daring realism of the <i>14 year old dancer</i>

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  • Little 14-year-old dancer.

    DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)

  • Little 14-year-old dancer.

    DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)

  • Four Studies of a Dancer.

    DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)

  • Dancer, large arabesque, third stroke, second study.

    DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)

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Title: Little 14-year-old dancer.

Author : DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 98 - Width 35.2

Technique and other indications: Bronze, lost wax casting, patina, satin, tulle.Other title: Tall dressed dancer.

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojedasite web

Picture reference: 02-004923 / RF2137

Little 14-year-old dancer.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

To close

Title: Little 14-year-old dancer.

Author : DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 98 - Width 35.2

Technique and other indications: Bronze, lost wax casting, patina, satin, tulle.Other title: Tall dressed dancer.

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojedasite web

Picture reference: 02-004926 / RF2137

Little 14-year-old dancer.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

To close

Title: Four Studies of a Dancer.

Author : DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 49 - Width 32.1

Technique and other indications: Charcoal.

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzisite web

Picture reference: 94-054926 / RF4646

Four Studies of a Dancer.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

To close

Title: Dancer, large arabesque, third stroke, second study.

Author : DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 40.5 - Width 56.2

Technique and other indications: Bronze, lost wax casting.

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 00-014101 / RF2071

Dancer, large arabesque, third stroke, second study.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: November 2009

Agrégée in Italian, Doctorate in Contemporary History at the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines

Historical context

Better known for his work as a designer and painter, Degas was also a prolific sculptor: when he died in 1917, he left 150 wax or clay sculptures in his studio. Even the static figures reveal a propensity for movement: the bodies of the models represented are traversed by a tension which stretches them, curves them, supports them in poses often difficult to maintain for a long time. Besides, the activity of a sculptor can be reconciled with the problems of sight which overwhelm Degas.

Working with the dancers allows Degas to explore the myriad possibilities of the human body, which is especially true in the case of his sculptures. Critics, who for several years have recognized Degas' value and have consecrated him "painter of dancers" during the Salon of 1880, are indignant when they see a work representing, with scandalous realism, a vulgar "little rat" ( student dancer) of the Opera. The statue is dressed in a real tulle tutu and wears real ballet shoes; a satin ribbon ties up real hair and, to accentuate the verism, her wax body is colored. Degas chooses to display his sculpture in a display case to assert its status as a work of art, but critics view it as the work of a taxidermist.

Her model is Marie van Goethem, daughter of Belgian immigrants who lives in Paris with her widowed mother and two sisters, the eldest Antoinette and the younger Louise. The three girls are sent to the Opera by their mother, a laundress who presumably prostitutes herself to provide for the needs of the family; they pose for Degas, but their paths soon separate. Marie entered Opera school at the age of thirteen in 1879, but was fired four years later for missing eleven lessons; at seventeen she already had a bad reputation, posed for painters and prostituted herself. Only Louise seriously pursues the career of dancer; she gained some fame in the 1890s and later became a dance teacher at the Opera.

Image Analysis

In Time, Paul Mantz asserts that the 14 year old dancer is "disturbing [...], formidable because she is thoughtless [...], advances her face, or rather her little muzzle with animalistic brash," then he asks himself: "Why is she so ugly? Why is her forehead, which her hair half covers, already, like her lips, marked with such a deeply vicious character? "Certainly, the biography of Marie van Goethem lends itself badly to hagiography, but she is then only a promising" little rat ", as evidenced by her posture, her attitude and even her gaze, which make one think of a pupil. sage who listens to his teacher rather than a nymphet. Dancers today easily recognize in Mary's posture the resting position still in use during classes and rehearsals. The serious and focused attitude of the model is confirmed by the numerous preparatory drawings made by Degas, in particular the Four Studies of a Dancer : the look of Marie in the drawing at the top right and the position of the arms in the drawing at the bottom left do justice to this masterpiece despised by the critics.

The bronze version, necessary to preserve the work, was made respecting the original in wax. The same process was used for the sculptures of dancers at work, at rest or in the process of dressing (seeDegas and the daily life of the dancers at the Opera). In the case of a dance exercise, Degas indicates in the title of the sculpture the name of the position represented with the precision of an illustrated dance glossary (see Representations of the dancer at the barre at the end of the Nineteenth century).

Dancer, large arabesque, third beat is exemplary of the extraordinary mastery of lines that characterizes Degas's style. The nudity of the model underlines the perfect attitude of the dancer with the torso tilted towards the ground, left leg raised, arms spread to ensure her balance, in all respects in accordance with academic dictations: between the tip of the raised foot and her head, a continuous oblique line.

Interpretation

It is astonishing today to see how a sculpture representing a young girl who is not at all seductive could have aroused fierce criticism, but we must consider that the time has on the customs of dancers a far from being flattering. It even seems that the critics project on the figure of the little dancer their own vices, unacknowledged desires, impulses stifled or secretly satisfied.

Contrary to a certain misogynistic image of Degas, his work shows an attention devoid of contempt and moralism towards women, whether he observes them in their work as dancers, ironers, laundresses, or surprises them. in their privacy. Thus, in his sculptures of dancers, Degas manages to reproduce the magical balance of body and mind.

  • dance
  • naked
  • realism
  • sculpture

Bibliography

Patrick BADE, Degas: Masterpieces, translated from English by Jacques-François Piquet, Paris, Hazan, 1994. Jill DEVONYAR and Richard KENDALL, Degas and dance, translated from the American by Christine Piot, Paris, Éditions de La Martinière, 2004. Antoine TERRASSE, All Degas, Paris, Flammarion, 1982, 2 volumes.

To cite this article

Gabriella ASARO, "Degas sculptor and the daring realism of 14 year old dancer »


Video: Degas and The Ballet - Picturing Movement