Lot 14
  • 14

Edgar Degas

10,000,000 - 15,000,000 GBP
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  • Edgar Degas
  • Petite danseuse de quatorze ans
  • inscribed Degas, numbered HER and stamped with the foundry mark A.A. HÉBRARD CIRE PERDUE (on the base)
  • bronze with muslin skirt and satin hair ribbon on a wooden base
  • height (including base): 101.3cm.
  • 39 7/8 in.


Emile Peyonat, Saône et Loire

Claude Glassey, Geneva

Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above in 1964. Sold: Sotheby’s, London, 27th June 2000, lot 3)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


X, ‘Exposition des artistes indépendants’, in La Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, 2nd April 1881, the wax mentioned

Henry Havard, ‘L’Exposition des artistes indépendants’, in Le Siècle, 3rd April 1881, the wax mentioned

G.G., ‘L’Exposition des artistes indépendants’, in La Justice, 4th April 1881, the wax mentioned

Jules Claretie, ‘La Vie à Paris: Les Artistes Indépendants’, in Le Temps, 5th April 1881, the wax mentioned

Gustave Gœtschy, ‘Exposition des artistes indépendants’, in Le Voltaire, 5th April 1881, the wax mentioned

Auguste Dalligny, ‘Les Indépendants: Sixième Exposition’, in Le Journal des arts, 8th April 1881, the wax mentioned

Louis Enault, ‘Chronique’, in Moniteur des arts, 15th April 1881, the wax mentioned

Charles Ephrussi, ‘Exposition des Artistes Indépendants’, in La Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, 16th April 1881, the wax mentioned

Bertall, ‘Expositions: Des peintres intransigéants et nihilistes: 36, boulevard des Capucines’, in Paris Journal, 21st April 1881, the wax mentioned

Elie de Mont, ‘L’Exposition du boulevard des Capucines’, in La Civilisation, 21st April 1881, the wax mentioned

Paul de Charry, ‘Les Indépendants’, in Le Pays, 22nd April 1881, the wax mentioned p. 3

Paul Mantz, ‘Exposition des œuvres des artistes indépendants’, in Le Temps, 23rd April 1881, the wax mentioned p. 3

Nina de Villars, ‘Variétés: Exposition des artistes indépendants’, in Le Courrier du soir, 23rd April 1881, the wax mentioned p. 2

Henry Trianon, ‘Sixième Exposition de peinture par un groupe d’artistes: 35, boulevard des Capucines’, in Le Constitutionnel, 24th April 1881, the wax mentioned

Comtesse Louise, ‘Lettres familières sur l’art: Salon de 1881’, in La France nouvelle, 1st-2nd May 1881, the wax mentioned

Jules Claretie, ‘La Vie à Paris: Les Artistes indépendants’, in La Vie à Paris: 1881, 1881, the wax mentioned

Victor Champier, ‘La Société des artistes indépendants’, in L’Année artistique: 1881, Paris, 1882, the wax mentioned

La Fare, ‘Chez les Impressionnistes’, in Le Gaulois, 23rd February 1882, the wax mentioned

Joris-Karl Huysmans, ‘L’Exposition des indépendants en 1881’, in L’Art moderne, Paris, 1883, the wax mentioned

Félix Fénéon, ‘Les Impressionnistes’, in La Vogue, 13th-20th June 1886, the wax mentioned

Paul Gsell, ‘Edgar Degas, Statuaire’, in La Renaissance de l'art français et des industries de luxe, December 1918, illustration of the wax p. 375

Paul-André Lemoisne, ‘Les Statuettes de Degas’, in Art et Décoration, September-October 1919, illustration of the wax p. 112

Paul Jamot, Degas, Paris, 1924, illustration of the wax p. 52

Georges Grappe, Degas, Paris, 1936, illustration of the wax p. 58

John Rewald (ed.), Degas, Works in Sculpture – A Complete Catalogue, New York, 1944, no. XX, illustrations of the wax and of another cast pp. 63-69

Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son œuvre, Paris, 1946, vol. I, illustration of another cast opposite p. 128

Lillian Browse, Degas Dancers, London, 1949, nos. 96 & 97, illustrations of another cast

Daniel Catton Rich, Degas, New York, 1951, illustration of another cast p. 23
John Rewald, Degas: Sculpture, London, 1957, no. XX, illustrations of another cast pls. 24-29 

Louisine W. Havemeyer, Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector, New York, 1961, another cast mentioned pp. 254-255

Franco Russoli & Fiorella Minervino, L'Opera completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, no. S73, illustrations of the wax p. 145; pl. LXIV, colour illustration of another cast p. 80

John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, New York, 1973, illustrations of another cast p. 451

Charles W. Millard, The Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Princeton, 1976, fig. 26, illustration of the wax; fig. 28, illustration of a detail of the wax; colour illustration of the wax opposite p. 62

Theodore Reff, Degas: The Artist's Mind, New York, 1976, fig. 157, colour illustration of another cast p. 240

Ian Dunlop, Degas, London, 1979, illustrations of another cast p. 181

Degas. The Dancers (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1984, illustration of the wax p. 64

Maurice Guillaud (ed.), Degas: Form and Space, Paris, 1984, figs. 155 & 157, colour illustrations of other casts

Daniel Catton Rich, Degas, New York, 1985, illustration of another cast p. 21

Frances Weitzenhoffer, The Havemeyers – Impressionism Comes to America, New York, 1986, fig. 166, colour illustration of another cast

Richard Thomson, The Private Degas, London, 1987, pl. 110,  illustration of another cast p. 83

Richard Thomson, Degas. The Nudes, London, 1988, no. 113, illustrations of the wax and of another cast p. 123

Robert Gordon & Andrew Forge, Degas, London, 1988, illustrations of the wax and of another cast pp. 206-207

Degas (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1988-89, illustrations of the wax p. 345

Gary Tinterow & Anne Norton, ‘Degas aux expositions impressionnistes’, in Degas inédit – Actes du Colloque Degas, Paris, 1989, illustration of another cast p. 341

John Rewald, Degas's Complete Sculpture. Catalogue Raisonné, New Edition, San Francisco, 1990, no. XX, illustrations of the plaster pp. 35 & 79; illustration of the wax p. 78; illustrations of another cast p. 78 and on the dust-jacket

Henri Loyrette, Degas, Paris, 1991, pp. 387, 391-394, 402, 612-614 & 672

Anne Pingeot & Frank Horvat, Degas Sculptures, Paris, 1991, no. 73, illustrations of another cast pp. 33-35, 188-189 and on the dust-jacket

Henri Loyrette, Degas: Passion and Intellect, London, 1993, colour illustrations of another cast pp. 1-5

Sara Campbell, ‘Degas, The Sculpture: A Catalogue Raisonné’, in Apollo, London, August 1995, fig. 71, illustrations of another cast and the wax pp. 1, 46, 61, 64 and on the cover; the present cast listed p. 47

Ruth Berson, The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, San Francisco, 1996, vol. I, the wax listed p. 326; vol. II, illustration of the wax p. 190

Degas Beyond Impressionism (exhibition catalogue), The National Gallery, London & The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 1996, fig. 23, colour illustration of the wax p. 32

Jean Sutherland Boggs, Degas, New York, 1996, no. 14, illustration of the wax p. 44

Martine Kahane, Delphine Pinasa, Wilfride Piollet & Sara Campbell, ‘Enquête sur la Petite Danseuse de quatorze ans de Degas’, in La revue du Musée d'Orsay, no. 7, Paris, autumn 1998, illustrations of other casts pp. 46, 63, 65, 68, 70-71

Degas and the Little Dancer (exhibition catalogue), Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, 1998, colour illustration of the wax p. viii; illustration of the plaster p. 107; colour illustration of another cast on the cover

Joseph S. Czestochowski & Anne Pingeot, Degas Sculptures, Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes, Memphis, 2002, no. 73, illustrations of another cast pp. 264-267; details of another cast illustrated on the dust-jacket; the present cast listed p. 267

Werner Hofmann, Degas. A Dialogue of Difference, London, 2007, no. 143, colour illustration of another cast p. 186

Sara Campbell, Richard Kendall, Daphne Barbour & Shelley Sturman, Degas in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, 2009, vol. II, no. 47, colour illustrations of the wax pp. 279- 280; illustration of the plaster p. 281


Rich brown patina with cold painted bodice and shoes. Apart from some very slight surface dirt in the bronze and in the silk tulle of the tutu, and some small surface abrasions at the back of the right knee, this work is in very good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Technically ambitious and highly innovative, Petite danseuse de quatorze ans represents the pinnacle of Degas’ achievements as a sculptor. The only sculpture exhibited during the artist’s lifetime, it was originally intended to be shown at the Fifth Impressionist Exhibition of 1880 and was included in the catalogue, but Degas, not satisfied that it was finished declined to send it and only the empty vitrine arrived. The following year, however, Degas was sufficiently pleased with his figure to include it in the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition. The wax original that caused so much comment at the time is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Using an armature probably made of wire for the body and hemp for the arms and hands, Degas worked in modelling wax and then proceeded to dress the figure in clothing made of real fabrics, using cream coloured grosgrain silk faille for the bodice, tulle and gauze for the tutu, fabric slippers and a satin ribbon to tie the hair.

The model was Marie van Goethem, who celebrated her fourteenth birthday in June 1879. The daughter of a Belgian laundress and tailor, Marie and her sisters Antoinette and Louise-Josephine were ballet students at the Opéra. These young girls, the 'rats' of the Opéra – as they were known at the time – the raw material from which the stars were formed, were of particular interest to Degas at this time. During the 1880s Marie became well known as an artist's model and a habitué of the artist-frequented Brasserie des Martyrs, the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes and the popular café Le Rat Mort.

The most ambitious of Degas's surviving sculptures, the Petite danseuse de quatorze ans, unlike the rest of his three-dimensional œuvre, was preceded by numerous studies and drawings in which Degas experimented with the positioning of his model. These initial studies show the degree of preparation that Degas undertook before embarking on the sculpture, studying his young model from all angles as he attempted to capture the exactness of her physiognomy. Among the sheets are full-length studies of Marie nude and dressed (fig. 1) in a pose close to that chosen for the sculpture and Degas' exhaustive study of his young model was further supplemented by studies of the head and arms and of the legs and feet. As Michael Pantazzi has observed these studies are 'absolutely assured. In almost every instance, the layout on the sheet is unusually careful. The paper used, sometimes green or pink, appears to be from the same stock that served for Portraits in a Frieze and six of the nine sheets are very large. How the artist himself regarded them may be inferred from the fact that he sold three of the larger sheets to collectors he knew – Jacques Doucet, Roger Marx and Louisine Havemeyer' (M. Pantazzi, 'The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer', in Degas (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1989, p. 345). In addition to the works on paper, Degas executed a preparatory nude study of the figure in wax, roughly three-quarters the size of the exhibited work, subsequently cast in bronze (fig. 3).

When it was first seen by audiences at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition Petite danseuse de quatorze ans excited considerable comment, being at once proclaimed for its modernity and chastised for its perceived vulgarity. Jules Claretie was charmed by the insouciance of the figure, writing in La Vie à Paris in 1881 he referred to 'a dancer in wax of a strangely attractive, disturbing, and unique naturalism, which recalls with a very Parisian and polished note the Realism of Spanish polychrome sculpture’ (J. Claretie quoted in The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886 (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., 1986, p. 362). Nina de Villars wrote, ‘I experienced before this statuette one of the most violent artistic impressions of my life’, and gave a retort to contemporary detractors, ‘the artist should reassure himself: the work not understood today will perhaps one day be regarded respectfully in a museum as the first work of a new art’ (N. de Villars quoted in ibid., p. 362). Others were shocked by the realism of the work and Degas’ unconventional use of materials. Paul Mantz wrote in Le Temps, 23rd April 1881: 'The piece is finished and let us acknowledge right away that the result is nearly terrifying... The unhappy child is standing, wearing a cheap gauze dress, a blue ribbon at the waist, her feet in supple shoes which make the first exercises of elementary choreography easier. She is working. Back arched and already a little tired, she stretches her arms around her. Formidable because she is thoughtless, with bestial effrontery she moves her face forward, or rather her little muzzle – and this work is completely correct because this poor little girl is the beginning of a rat… Degas is no doubt a moralist; he perhaps knows things about the dancers of the future that we do not. He gathered from the espaliers of the theatre a precociously depraved flower, and he shows her to us withered before her time’ (P. Mantz quoted in ibid., p. 362).

The wax sculpture of the little dancer was not the only work by Degas to be exhibited at the 1881 Impressionist exhibition; other works that Degas exhibited – particularly profile studies of young criminals (see lot 33) – present an interesting view of contemporary France. As Douglas W. Druick and Peter Zegers have observed, 'Degas's portraits, like the trial, stripped away the attractive veneer of the popular theatre and the café concert to reveal their more sinister underside as a breeding ground for vice. The portraits thus underlined similar tensions in The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, which appeared halfway through the exhibition's run […]. The perceptive young Gustave Geffroy regarded them as the work of a young 'philosopher' captivated by the tensions between the “deceptive exterior and the underside of Parisian life”. Even the less sympathetic Mantz conceded that they embodied an “instructive ugliness” that could be regarded as the “intellectual result” of Realism in the hands of a “moralist” [...]. The 1881 group exhibition constituted the high-water mark of Degas's Realism’ (D. W. Druick & P. Zegers, 'Scientific Realism: 1873-1881', in Degas (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., pp. 209-211).   

It was this contemporary realism that made Petite danseuse de quatorze ans such a compelling work. Rather than showing the graceful poise and elegance of the finished performance, this sculpture belongs with the works in which Degas focused on capturing moments that revealed the relentless work that dominated the lives of his young subjects (fig. 5). Richard Kendall described the potency of Degas’ work: ‘What is overwhelmingly evident is that, from its inception, Degas chose to engage with one of the most resonant images of his day, an image that was seen by his peers to link high art with the gutter and to provoke anxiety as much as approval. More versed than we in these social semphores, Degas’s audiences were either thrilled by its novelty or exasperated by its awkwardness, whilst none seemed indifferent to the sculpture’s presence. Those accustomed to the sparkling elegance of Garnier’s auditorium were perplexed by the elevation of a mere ‘rat’ … to such prominence, while the ‘adepts’ of the new art … were thrilled by its audacity. Experts in the dance were able to concede the ‘singular exactitude’ of the work, while those expecting titillation were thwarted at every turn by the indifferent expression of the dancer’s pinched features or by the lack of voluptuousness in her young body. And for established followers of Degas’s art, here was another challenge: a colored, three-dimensional object by a painter they knew well leading them from the familiar illusions of pictorial space to the treacherous pseudo-realities of sculpture’ (R. Kendall, in Degas and the Little Dancer (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 24).

The history of the casting of the Petite danseuse de quatorze ans is more complicated than that of the other seventy-three bronzes. Its unique position in Degas' sculptural œuvre was already apparent in 1903 when Louisine Havemeyer first considered purchasing the original wax. The sale did not go through and the work was not cast in bronze but from references in Degas' correspondence and from other sources it is apparent that he was actively considering the advantages and disadvantages of making bronze casts from his fragile waxes. Mrs Havemeyer made a second attempt to purchase the wax sculpture following Degas' death in 1918 but failed yet again as a result of complications arising from the division of Degas' estate. She was successful four years later, however, in purchasing the first bronze cast that is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York as part of the complete set of Degas bronzes donated by Mrs Havemeyer in 1929. As is the case with the other models, the casting took place over a number of years but unlike the smaller sculptures which theoretically were to be cast in an edition of twenty-two (twenty for sale, one for the founder Hébrard and one for the Degas heirs), the numbering is less consistent. Some of the casts were set onto wooden bases into which the artist's signature was burned and to which the Hébrard foundry mark and identifying letter of the cast were affixed, while other casts were unlettered. In their catalogue raisonné published in 2002, Joseph S. Czestochowski and Anne Pingeot have identified and located 29 casts, of which there are 27 in bronze and 2 in plaster, plus the Modèle bronze and the original wax.

For a more detailed discussion of the circumstances of the creation and casting of this bronze see Martine Kahane (et. al.), ‘Enquête sur la Petite Danseuse de quatorze ans de Degas’, op. cit.; and Degas and the Little Dancer (exhibition catalogue), Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, 1998.