The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, Edgar Degas. 1879-1880. Bronze, cotton, satin, on a wooden base.
This piece was the only sculpture that Edgar Degas ever showed publicly, in the sixth Impressionist exhibit in 1881. With its striking realism and odd use of materials (the clothing was real, and traditionally clothing was always a part of the sculpture, to be crafted from the same material as the body), many critics outright disliked this sculpture. It has even been called “brutish” for its unromantic depiction of the young female form. Degas did not romanticize his subjects. From his careful rendering of anatomy and movement in his many sketches and paintings of ballet dancers, it is obvious that he was more concerned with the human form in motion rather than creating a pleasing figure for (mostly male) viewers to gaze upon. The girl’s slender, muscular form also lacks the eroticism often associated with ballet dancers from this time period. Dance halls were one of the few places where it was respectable to look upon women in less than full clothing and have it be acceptable.