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The Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer by Edgar Degas is comfortably his most famous contribution to the medium of sculpture. It was completed towards the end of the 19th century.
Degas saw his sculpture as a form of personal expression, without having any real desire to exhibit or promote his work within this movement. Only those with access to his studio would have been aware of his deeply held interest in this art form. Whilst everyone was well aware of his charcoal drawings, pastels and oil paintings, the sculpture that you find here was the only one that he ever exhibited.
To consider that point, The Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer immediately becomes a key work in his development as an artist, before we even start to consider its own innate beauty. The final work is an impressive 98cm tall and Degas’ original French title for it was La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans.
Edgar Degas was passionate about the depiction of ballet dancers and would address this drive through several different mediums. His work with sculpture offered new possibilities for this genre, such as being able to consider the third dimension that had not been possible with his many paintings and drawings of ballet dancers. He experimented with two or three different materials for his sculptures artworks.
Degas’ creation would immediately make it into the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881 and would remain his only exhibited sculpture. Perhaps the mixed reviews persuaded him to keep all future sculptures confined to his studio. Artists can be notoriously sensitive to criticism but perhaps Degas realised that it was just the price of bringing new ideas and techniques to the art world, as a member of the groundbreaking impressionist movement (which took its name from Claude Monet’s Impression Sunrise that was featured in their very first exhibition).