Little Dancer of Fourteen Years

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Little Dancer of Fourteen Years (French: La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans) (1881) is a statue by Edgar Degas. The work measures 81 inches in height. The subject is a young dance student named Marie van Goethem. The relationship between van Goethem and Degas is uncertain. It was not unusual for the young dancers of the Paris Opera to seek protectors from among the well-heeled visitors at the back door of the opera.


The statue was shown in Paris at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881. It received mixed reviews. Most critics were shocked by the piece. They thought it was ugly. Degas exhibited it inside a glass case. Some thought it was a medical specimen. The head and face were thought grotesque and primitive.

The dancer is dressed in a cotton skirt and is wearing a hair ribbon. For a finishing touch Degas used a wig made of real hair. He covered it with wax. The only parts not covered with wax were the ribbon given to him by van Goethem and the tutu. Each museum that shows this figure gives it a different tutu. The original wax model was acquired by Paul Mellon in 1956.

The sculpture was originally made in wax before it was cast in bronze. Degas's wife and daughter made the decision to have 27 of them cast in bronze. The casting was undertaken at the Hébrard foundry in Paris from 1920 until the mid-20th century. These statues posthumous Degas bronzes can be seen in many museums. Sixty-nine original sculptures in wax and mixed-media survived the casting process.

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