Sotheby's has announced that Edgar Degas' iconic bronze Little Dancer Aged Fourteen will be included in the auction house's February 3, 2009 Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale at its New Bond Street, London location. Furthermore, it could be yours for the low, low estimated price of $17.6 million (US). Yes, I know that's not exactly a "low" figure, but neither does Little Dancer appear on the private market every day. She's most often seen in museum collections, after all. Which leads me to an interesting question, raised by someone in this house who's visited many a museum website:
"Hey, how many of those Little Dancer sculptures are there, anyway?"
The answer is: 31. By foundry contract, twenty-two bronzes were to be cast from Degas' original wax + mixed-media sculpture, first exhibited to mixed reviews in 1881 at the Sixth Impressionist Salon. Apparently, though, 28 Little Dancers were cast--perhaps because collectors had shown particular advance interest in this piece. The bronzes plus two plaster casts and the wax original fill out the roster.
Degas never got around to having any of his sculptures cast during his lifetime. It's a wildly expensive process, so much so that he apparently couldn't bring himself to justify the cash outlay to create "eternal" works. Expense aside, he was never keen on the idea of bronzes, anyway. After his death, however--and as so often happens with artists' estates--his heirs (who otherwise disagreed about nearly every aspect of Oncle Edgar's personal property and assets) decided to have cast 74 of the 150 wax and mixed-media models he left in his studio. The Parisian firm A. A. Hébrard was chosen to conduct this delicate process. Each of the 74 bronze editions saw 22 castings and, of these, 20 went on the market, one went to foundry head Adrien Hébrard, and one went to the Degas heirs.
Little Dancer was the only statuette that had ever been seen in public, and is the most well-known of Degas' posthumous 3-D works. Only 10 of her castings are held in private hands nearly a century later, which is why the auction announcement is truly a "big deal." Catch her if you can!
Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1880-81, cast ca. 1922
Painted bronze with muslin skirt and satin hair ribbon
H. 41 1/4 in. including base (3/4 "life size")
Image provided by Sotheby's