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“The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer” by Edgar Degas (MET)

"The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer" by Edgar Degas

“The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer” by Edgar Degas

“The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer” by Edgar Degas is a sculpture begun about 1880 by Edgar Degas of a young student at the Paris Opera Ballet dance school.

The statue is one-third life-size and was initially sculpted in wax. The dancer is dressed in a bodice, tutu, and ballet slippers.

This sculpture is one of 28 bronze repetitions that appear in museums worldwide, which were cast after Degas’ death. The tutus worn by the bronzes vary from museum to museum.

The arms are taut, and the legs and feet are placed in a ballet position. There is tension in the pose, an image of a young adolescent ballerina being put through her paces.

The sculpture depicts one of Degas’s favorite themes, dancers captured in various poses. Ballet dancers were one of Degas’ favorite subjects.  Degas told a Parisian art dealer:

“People call me the painter of dancing girls; it has never occurred to them that my chief interest in dancers lies in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes.” 

These dancers were known as “petits rats de l’opéra,” literally “opera rats,” because of their scurrying around the opera stage in tiny, fast-moving steps. 

Young, pretty, and poor, the ballet students were potential targets of wealthy patrons; thus, the term also had negative connotations.

In this world of wealth and poverty, Degas’s studio was once visited by the police morals unit, wanting to know why so many little girls were coming and going. The exact relationship between the model and Edgar Degas is a matter of debate.

At the ballet, Degas captured a world that excited his taste for classical beauty and his eye for modern realism. He became a regular visitor to the Paris Opéra and its Ballet.

He invented new techniques for drawing and painting the pink and white world, full of hard work, ritual, and tradition.

At the sixth Impressionist exhibition of 1881, Edgar Degas showed the original of this sculpture, which was the only sculpture that he ever exhibited in public.

The statue was not well received by the critics who protested that she was ugly. The figurine’s mixed media, basically a wax statuette dressed in real clothes, was very innovative, and the work’s realism was revolutionary.

After Degas’s death, his heirs authorized that copies be cast in bronze of his wax sculptures. Paul-Albert Bartholomé, a sculptor and Degas’s friend, prepared the figures for casting, a process executed by a Paris foundry.

The quality of the bronzes was controlled, and their edition was limited.

Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas (1834–1917) was prolific in paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. He was fond of the subject of dance, and more than half of his works depict dancers.

He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, although Degas rejected the term, preferring to be called a Realist.

He was masterly in depicting movement, as seen in his many masterpieces of dancers, racecourse subjects, and female nudes.

Upon Degas’s death, more than 150 figurative sculptures were found in his studio. Most were made of wax, clay, and plasticine.

Many had deteriorated. Except for the wax “Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer,” none of the other sculptures had been publicly exhibited during Degas’s lifetime.

The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer

  • Title:             The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer
  • French:          La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans
  • Artist:            Edgar Degas
  • Founder:       Cast by A. A. Hébrard (Paris)
  • Dates:           1880 (conceived) 1922 (cast), 2018 (tutu)
  • Materials:     Partially tinted bronze, cotton tarlatan, silk satin, and wood
  • Dimensions: H. 38 1/2 x W. 17 1/4 x D. 14 3/8 in. (97.8 x 43.8 x 36.5 cm)
  • Museum:      Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Edgar Degas

The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer by Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917)

Conserving Degas

MET European Paintings Collection

Edgar Degas 14-year-old dancer  – NYC Metropolitan Museum

MET Modern and Contemporary Art Collection

Edgar Degas’ ‘Petite danseuse de quatorze ans’


MET American Wing Collection


“We were created to look at one another, weren’t we?”
– Edgar Degas


Photo Credit: Edgar Degas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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