The mysterious Little Dancer


She is everywhere.

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I have a new mission in life. To see all the 28 Little Dancers.

I know it’s a little crazy, but what’s crazier is the story behind the sculpture which is so stunningly realistic.

When I was in Museum of Fine Arts Boston last month, I was recommended Edgar Degas’ The Little Dancer as a must-see. And I did. Safe within the glass walls, the 14-year-old ballet dancer stood with her head held high. The expression of dignity stealing the focus off from the rest of her that screams of poverty. The tights are lumpy and the fabric on the tutu looks like a piece of rag.

A month later, my husband and I were at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and I see the same piece in the gallery. This time out of its glass case. How could this be? Is this piece on rotation?

And then I read the story.

As it turns out, it’s not the same one. This Little Dancer, like the one I saw in Boston, was completed much after Edgar Degas death in 1917. But… why does it say that Degas is the creator?

Flashback to 1881. The gates open to the display of select artworks at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in Paris. One among them is Degas’ The Little Dancer. However, she is not made out of bronze, but out of wax. She is wearing linen slippers, cotton and silk tutu, and a wig of real hair! Art critics devour the work. Some find it tasteful, some others think it looks like a monkey.

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The Little Dancer at Philadelphia Museum of Art

Unsold, The Little Dancer is back in Degas’ studio. And it lies among 150 other similar looking wax and clay sculptures at the studio. All of them look like clones of Marie Genevieve Von Goethem, who modeled for it. She was a young ballet dancer who, as a means to earn some extra cash, stood as a model for Degas. What she will never have the fortune to know is that she is today worth close to 18 million dollars.

This was the only sculpture Degas ever exhibited. After his death, in 1922, 28 Little Dancers were cast in Bronze and are now housed in the best of museums such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Tate Modern, London among others.

I have seen two of them (in Boston and Philadelphia), and it has only left me wanting to see the rest.


References: The Telegraph, Google Arts and Culture, National Gallery of Art, Tripsavvy