When Edgar Degas sculpted Little Dancer, Age Fourteen, he meant to change the way people viewed beauty. He didn’t sculpt a tall, slender ballerina out of sleek clay. Instead he chose a young dancer who hadn’t yet grown into her womanly figure. He chose a dancer who was still learning and struggling to become a star. Then he molded her in resting pose rather than in the middle of a complicated but beautiful maneuver.
The little ballerina looks tired because she probably was. Many ballerinas during Degas’ time were very poor and studied ballet as a way out of the slums. This was the case with the model Degas used for Little Dancer, Age Fourteen. Her name was Marie Van Goethem. Though she was fired from the dance company when she was seventeen and never became the star she wished to be, Degas’ sculpture has made her a recognized figure all over the world. When the sculpture was shown to the public during the 6th Impressionist Exhibition in Paris in 1881, many thought it was ugly, though some understood that Degas was trying to show beauty in truth. Today, the sculpture is loved my many.
Degas created Little Dancer, Age Fourteen by layering yellow wax over a wire frame. When he had completed the sculpture he added real ballet slippers, which he covered with a thin layer of wax, real hair tied with a ribbon, a bodice made of linen, and a muslin tutu. He thought the sculpture would have disintegrated before he died and, in fact, many of his wax sculptures were broken and falling apart when he died. Degas’ heirs quickly cast the wax sculpture in bronze, making many copies. The original wax sculpture no longer exists. Today, many museums have bronze casts of Degas’ sculpture, Little Dancer, Age Fourteen. The one shown here stands in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, France. Also in the case, notice the smaller sculpture which was a study for Little Dancer, Age Fourteen.
Check back tomorrow for a homemade clay recipe. You can make a sculpture, too!
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