The National Gallery of Art Presents DEGAS'S LITTLE DANCER, in Conjunction with Kennedy Center's World-Premiere of 'Little Dancer', 10/5-1/11
The National Gallery of Art's Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1878-1881) takes center stage in Degas's Little Dancer, a focus exhibition on view from October 5, 2014 through January 11, 2015. The exhibition is presented in conjunction with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' world-premiere musical Little Dancer, which runs from October 25, 2014 through November 30, 2014. The musical is inspired by Edgar Degas's renowned original wax statuette of a young ballerina, which caused a sensation when it was first shown at the 1881 impressionist exhibition in Paris and is one of the most popular works of art in the Gallery of Art's collection.
"Thanks to the generosity of Gallery benefactor Paul Mellon, the Gallery has the largest and most important collection of Degas's original wax sculptures, including the groundbreaking Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, one of the best-loved sculptures of all time," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "Well-known through more than 30 posthumous bronze casts displayed in museums around the world, the Gallery's wax version of Degas's famous sculpture is the only one that was formed by the artist's own hands and the only one he ever showed publicly."
The Gallery has the third largest collection of Degas works in the world, including 12 cast bronzes, one posthumously produced plaster, 19 paintings, 71 works on paper, and 52 original Degas works in wax, clay, and plaster.
About the Exhibition
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen will be presented with 11 additional works that exemplify Degas's fascination with the practice and performance of ballet, including the monumental pastel Ballet Scene (c. 1907) and monotype The Ballet Master (c. 1874) from the Gallery's collection, and oil painting The Dance Class (c. 1873) from the Corcoran Gallery of Art. These works will join the smaller statuettes Study in the Nude of Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (c. 1878-1881) and Fourth Position Front, on the Left Leg (c. 1885/1890), each about two feet tall.
The exhibition also highlights the experimental, modern approach Degas took to his work. Degas did not carve sculpture but used an additive process. Little Dancer was modeled in wax over a metal armature, bulked with organic materials including wood, rope, and even old paintbrushes in the arms. It was then covered with clay and layers of pigmented wax. Degas further elevated the sculpture's realism by affixing a wig of human hair to the head and outfitting his ballerina in a cotton-and-silk tutu, a real bodice, and linen slippers.
The Ballet Master was likely the artist's first attempt at monotype, made in collaboration with his friend Viscount Ludovic Napoléon Lepic (1839-1889), who taught Degas this challenging printmaking technique, which produced only a single, lush impression of each image. Degas enhanced the print with white to create an effect of both dancer and ballet master emerging eerily from an inky darkness.
The exhibition features three other monotypes which Degas heightened extensively with pastel. Dynamic and vibrantly colored, they perfectly capture the luminous effect of the gas-lit stages. Degas frequently explored the dancers' world off-stage, depicting them at rehearsal or standing in the wings, awaiting the start of the performance. He was a keen observer and a wry but sympathetic chronicler of the daily life of the dancers he studied, even on occasion introducing a black-clad gentleman, an abonné (or subscriber), watching from an opera box or lurking behind the scenes as a potential "protector" of the young dancers.
In addition, the exhibition includes a portrait drawing of Degas by his friend, the artist Paul Mathey (1844-1929). In it Degas stands looking at a work of art in a posture loosely recalling that of his Little Dancer muse, arms behind his back, hands clasped.
Degas's Little Dancer is organized by the National Gallery of Art and curated by Alison Luchs, curator of early European sculpture.