Petite danseuse de quatorze ans.

We must increase our bust.

Edgar Degas’ sculpture of fourteen year old ‘opera rat’ ¹ Marie van Goethem at the National Gallery of Art. [Click to enlarge.]

Admission: I’ve never found this sculpture terribly appealing, particularly not as a child. It’s safe to say I wasn’t a dainty little girl. (In fact, my parents referred to me as their ‘African bush kid.’) Catching tadpoles, skinned knees, & getting bubble-gum stuck in my hair after hanging upside down on a climbing frame — these things were more my bag.

Remnants of that little hooligan in me still stubbornly cling. Which is probably why I did not focus on the delicate pink slippers, silk bodice, & ‘hair with a green ribbon tied around its long braid’ ² (all real, by the way, & set in situ).

The more celebrated bronze version of this sculpture is on display at the Met. [See Mariah Kunkel’s sweet Instagram below for comparison & follow her here.] My photograph is of the plaster casting in DC, encased in glass.

Marie’s reflection in that glass is what caught my attention. The subject makes a little more sense in the context of a dancer’s critical self-analysis — eyelids lowered, chin jutting out, neck elongated, shoulders pulled back. She appears to be inspecting her flat chest & that aloof stare suddenly becomes kind of endearing.

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¹Degas at the Races: Sculpture.’ National Gallery of Art.

² Failing, Patricia. ‘Unraveling the Mysteries of Degas’s Sculpture.’ ARTNews.
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