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The Little Dancer, Fourteen Years Old, 1880-81
Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Bronze, net tutu with satin hair ribbon, 38½ x 14½ x 14¼ in.
… State Operating Fund and the Art Lovers’ Society, 45.22.1
As I walk into the French Impressionism Gallery, my eyes are instantly drawn to Edgar Degas’ famous sculpture. The Little Dancer, Fourteen Years Old is a bronze sculpture of a Belgian girl named Marie van Goethem. Marie was a dancer at the opera where Degas observed his models. Degas didn’t have a personal relationship with Marie; instead, he asked her to be his model because of her fragile, skinny body. Marie was honored by Degas’ request for her to model and excited for the extra money she would earn for her family. This sculpture displays the challenging childhood of a dancer. Her frail body struggles to stand confidently, but her chin is held high. The poor posture could be due to the fact that Degas required her to model for hours and she simply became tired. Regardless, her posture does not display a perfected dancer. The grooves in her skin, specifically in her face and legs, show how the art of dance wears on the human body. There is an eerie emotion echoing from her as she patiently stands in her ballet fourth position. The bronze metal captures the details of her body and creates a realistic replica of Marie. Degas brought this sculpture to life with the tutu. The fabric of the tutu creates depth and mimics the exact dress of a real dancer. Degas completed this sculpture by placing a bow in her hair. The bow symbolizes Marie van Goethem’s innocence. Bows are typically tied in little girls’ hair, and this emphasizes her young age. Marie’s pose, with hands clutched behind her arched back, suggests that she is well disciplined but lacks the grace of a mature dancer. This sculpture is one of the twenty-three known versions scattered throughout the world. Edgar Degas is famous for his endless renderings of dancers. The Little Dancer, Fourteen Years Old is special because the sculpture has the perfect combination of materials and emotion to realistically express the exhausted dancer. To fully experience this piece as Degas intended it, you must use all of your senses to completely immerse yourself into the sculpture.
1. “The Dance Lesson by Edgar Degas.” Accessed April 11, 2013. http://www.nga.gov/feature/artnation/degas/thedancer_1.htm.
2. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. “Edgar Degas: The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer (29.100.370).” Accessed April 11, 2013. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/29.100.370.
3. “Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer—Edgar Degas, French, 1834–1917.” Accessed April 11, 2013. http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/little-fourteen-year-old-dancer-65028.
Whadda ya know?!:
What do you think the bronze casting process was like in 1880?
Want to know more?:
View another Degas piece at the museum here: http://www.vmfa.state.va.us/Collections/European_Art/Painting,_Sculpture_+_Works_on_Paper/Degas_93_60.aspx
Learn more about the Lost-wax Bronze Casting Method in this brief video:
Author’s Name: Arielle Eisen
Venus and Cupid, ca. 1626-30
Artemisia Gentileschi (Italian, 1593-ca.1656)
Oil on canvas, 38 x 56 5/8 in.
… Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund, 2001.225
This painting from the Baroque period depicts a nude, reclining Venus and an attentive Cupid. According to author Mieke Bal, Artemisia Gentileschi was a pioneer in capturing the essence of strong women. Here she focuses on one of the best-known classical sex symbols, the goddess of love. Strong light emanating from the upper left-hand corner draws our attention to her reclining form. Other objects out of the direct spotlight include a baby Cupid fanning Venus with peacock feathers, a pillow, a blanket, the window with a view of a landscape, and drapery.
These objects and setting give small hints of wealth and are typical of Baroque style. The Baroque period used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail and expression to produce drama, tension, and exuberance. Cupid is fanning Venus with peacock feathers, which are typically very expensive. Other symbols of prosperity include the fabric of the pillow (red velvet, tipped with gold)and the royal blue of the blanket as well as the window looking out onto a garden. The use of drapery in the upper right-hand corner was a popular technique in the Baroque period, when artists were more focused on the light reflecting off objects in contrast to the objects themselves. Fabric is dependent on light to show its intricate folds.
This painting has a lot of qualities from the Baroque period, such as the shadows on the fabric, and the intense lighting coming from one direction. The main focus in art from the Baroque period was light, and it is obvious from the folds and the fabric that Artemisia took shadow and highlights into great detail. It becomes apparent that the scene is being lit from the upper left-hand corner, because of the way it reflects off of Venus’s body. Cupid is left in the shadows, while Venus is the focal point of the painting. You see the shadows and colors reflecting off the fabric instead of the fabric itself.
Venus looks relaxed and happy. Her face has a natural expression of contentment. She looks like other figures typical in Baroque paintings, soft, busty, and pale. Yet as in other works by Gentileschi, she has strong features, including robust hands, legs, and hips. One of the best-known modern Gentileschi critics, Mary Garrard, offers a feminist perspective on this work. She points to Artemisia’s use of hands to show women aren’t always sex objects. Venus’s hands have a strong grip, which was common in Artemisia’s representation of female hands in her other works. In contrast, Cupid’s hands seem to be childlike, dainty, and small, and they’re not holding the peacock feathers securely.
One last observation is that scholars say Gentileschi appears to be drawing from her life experiences. Some critics even say she put a little of herself in all of the women she painted.
1. Bal, Mieke. The Artemisia Files: Artemisia Gentileschi for Feminists and Other Thinking People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
2. Bissell, R. Ward. Artemisia Gentileschi and the Authority of Art: Critical Reading and Catalogue Raisonné. University Park: Pennsylvania State Press, 1999.
The Roman Catholic Church decided at the Council of Trent that in response to the Protestant Reformation art should communicate Religious Themes in an emotional, direct way. This was the birth of the Baroque period!
Want to know more?:
Check out this painting and others from the European Collection here: http://www.vmfa.state.va.us/Collections/European_Art/Painting,_Sculpture_+_Works_on_Paper/Gentileschi,_Artemisia_2001_225_Venus_and_Cupid.aspx
Learn more about Cupid’s life here: http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Cupid.html