The Little Dancer by Degas
Posted 31 May 2002 - 12:34 PM
Before I make any criticism of the bronze girl, I must say that I find her delightful and delicate and lovely. My question concerns ballet technique at the time of Degas and/or the developmental age of the girl.
This little dancer is all off balance. She is in fourth position, and her center of gravity is behind her back foot. It is almost as if she must balance herself by jutting out her front foot. Her shoulders are held too high andd too far back, and with too much tension, even considering the tension created by locking the hands together with straight arms behind the back. She is facing too far upwards. Her left leg is turned out at the foot, but the rest of the leg is forward-facing, so that when you look at the statue from the front, the left leg looks grotesque. I realize that she is at rest, but I wonder why Degas sculpted her. Has anyone seen the other sculpture of the Little Dancer? Is it like this one? What about his paintings and drawings?
What was technique like back then? How much was a child that age supposed to be able to do technically?
Posted 31 May 2002 - 02:57 PM
As a child I was a pupil at the Theatre School of the Gothenburg
Theater. In the foyer there was a replica of the Degas statue, standing about two feet high.
Yes, I do agree with you, not so academically correct. I remember that the students talked about her bad stance - potbelly and all - and said that if we did stood like that in the classroom we would have been thrown out.
Somewhere, there should be a photo of me at age 14, holding on to the statue for balance while I was doing a rather fine penchee-
I was in the costume for fandango girl in Marriage of Figaro (my debut) and I was then rather proud of myself. But where is that photo now? :confused:
Posted 01 June 2002 - 07:04 AM
If I recall correctly, and my memory is often faulty, the model for the dancer was named Solange Schwartz, or perhaps she only contributed the old-fashioned practice clothes for the sculpture.
Posted 01 June 2002 - 10:21 PM
This reminds me of a Cycladic statue in the Art Institute. It was my impression that it was tilted incorrectly, that the plane of the face and arms should be vertical. You'd think that art museums would know about stuff like this, wouldn't you?
Posted 02 June 2002 - 02:29 AM
Next season, the POB ballet master Patrice Bart will create a ballet called "La petite danseuse de Degas" at the POB, based on the life of Degas' model. I don't remember well the few things I had read about it, but will try to find some information.
I remember seeing (but it was long ago) a statue of young dancer by Degas in a Paris museum, I think it was the musee d'Orsay but am not sure. So it seems that there are several copies of that statue, or several statues with similar themes.
Posted 02 June 2002 - 02:44 AM
it doesn't mention the original model, but it includes a photograph.
Also there's some information (in French) at the end of the following page:
It says that the model which is shown in the Musée d'Orsay is a bronze statue made after Degas' death after an original version in wax which is shown in a US museum (probably the one you saw?) and that, when it was shown in 1881, it caused a scandal because of its "real" hair, costume and shoes, and that some critics found that the girl's forehead and its lips showed her "deeply vicious character" (!).
Posted 02 June 2002 - 03:55 AM
As to the display of the wax model, it was a fairly commonplace practice in the nineteenth century for sculptors to exhibit "works in progress". (Just think of Bartholdi displaying parts of the Statue of Liberty before he assembled the final version.) The silly critical remarks have a lot more to do with American xenophobia and less with sound criticism, and also reflect the Victorian fascination with physiognomy, which was an outgrowth of phrenology. (It pretended it could read your character and tell your future by the bumps on your head!)
And Moira, you would be astonished about what art museums don't know about arts which are not in their disciplines! A description of George Washington in uniform by an art historian has provided me with years of pleasure as he named every piece of military ironmongery back to the pharaohs, and identified each piece as being a part of Washington's eighteenth-century clothing.
Posted 03 June 2002 - 10:54 AM
"French painter of the Impressionist School who painted many and unflattering pictures of ballet dancers......."
Posted 03 June 2002 - 12:08 PM
Probably also it was a period when ballet dancers had rather bad reputations (with greedy old men going to the foyer de la danse, etc.) and so the "petits rats" weren't well considered either?
Actually, several of Degas' paitings aren't especially flattering...
Posted 03 June 2002 - 01:46 PM
Posted 03 June 2002 - 07:32 PM
START QUOTE: The original Little Dancer caused a furor when first exhibited in 1881. Made of tinted wax and dressed in real clothes, the sculpture outraged many viewers' sense of propriety. One critic railed: "Wishing to present us with a statuette of a dancer, he has chosen amongst the most odiously ugly.... Oh, certainly, at the very bottom of the barrel of the dance school, there are some poor girls who look like this monster.... but what good are they in terms of statuary? Put them in a museum of zoology, of anthropology, of physiology, all right: but in a museum of art, really!" This hostility was, however, very much to the point, as Degas was clearly using the sculpture to question accepted ideas of art. Joris-Karl Huysmans, a generally more sympathetic critic observed: "The terrible truthfulness of this statuette is a source of obvious discomfort... all their notions about sculpture, about that cold, inanimate whiteness, those memorable stereotypes replicated for centuries, are demolished. The fact is that, on first blow M. Degas has overturned the conventions of sculpture." With its incorporation of ordinary materials there is a good argument for making Degas' "first blow" the first modern sculpture.
The only sculpture exhibited by Degas in his lifetime, the wax version of the Little Dancer was in poor shape when unearthed in his studio after his death. Over twenty bronze versions were cast by the Paris master founder Adrien A. Hébrard under the authority of the estate, which were also "dressed" with a ribbon and tutu. To judge from the high quality of the detail in Joslyn's plaster, it is most likely that it was the successful prototype for the bronze edition. END QUOTE
After showing the wax sculpture in the 1881 Impressionist exhibition and getting blasted by the critics, Degas never again showed any of his sculptures publicly.
Degas is not the favorite artist of many feminists, many of whom see his approach to women as primarily voyeuristic and hostile; others see his women subjects more positively, as engrossed in their activity, unaware or uninterested in a male viewer's point of view.
Little Dancer, Age 14 was cast in bronze after Degas' death. Somehow I have the sense that Mary Cassatt, his good friend on and off, was involved in getting this to happen, but my memory may be playing tricks on me. I know Cassatt was enormously impressed with his sculpture.
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