Edgar Degas
(Paris, 1834-1917, Paris)
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, original 1880/81, cast ca. 1932/36
Bronze, partly painted, cotton tutu and silk ribbon, 98 cm
Signature stamp and foundry mark on wooden base
Czestochowski/Pingeot, p. 267 (BUH)
Among the small wax figures of female nudes and horses found in Edgar Degas’s studio following his death in 1917 was the approximately 98 cm-high figure of the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, the only sculpture the artist exhibited during his lifetime (in 1881). In 1918 Degas’s heirs commissioned the A. A. Hébrard foundry in Paris to produce an edition of 22 bronze casts of each of the wax figures (20 of them for sale, and one each for the heirs and the foundry). In 1922/23, an initial series of 10 bronze casts of the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen were produced for sale (and, most probably, the additional 2 for the heirs and the foundry); each was painted and dressed with a fabric tutu. As with the small sculptures, the casts were stamped with a letter to number them. Letter A went to Louisine Havemeyer in New York, who was the first to acquire a complete set of all the Degas sculptures (today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The figure bearing the letter B served for a long time as an exhibit, and 7 figures with the letters C to J were sold to collectors and museums in the years that followed. In 1931 the last of the 10 commercial casts of the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen made in 1922/23 found its way to the Louvre as part of a complete set of all 73 Degas sculptures; the Louvre set was allocated the letter P.

In 1932 the foundry owner’s daughter Nelly Hébrard took over as head of the “Société des fontes à cires perdues A. A. Hébrard”, which was responsible for marketing the Degas bronzes, whilst the foundry continued to operate until 1936. A further series of the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen was cast during this period. Unlike with the first series, the majority of the casts produced this time round did not carry a letter (as a numbering). It would also appear that more casts were made than were envisaged in the 1918 contract. However, since the first examples from the second series that appeared on the market also included ones sold via Degas’s niece Jeanne Fevre, it is reasonable to assume that this was done by agreement between the foundry and the heirs. Between 1938 and 1943, a total of 8 casts of the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen were sold to public and private collections, most of them in the US. After the Second World War and up until 1955 a further 5 casts coming from the second series were sold; they included the one acquired by Emil Bührle in 1954 from the Marlborough Fine Art Ltd. gallery in London.