Tribute to Degas's Surreal La Petite Danseus (137 Years After)
"Everyone has talent at 25, the difficulty is to have it at fifty." (Edgar Degas)
Edgar Degas (1834-1917) one of the French most endearing impressionist painter who started sculpting in his early forties(very late into his career) where he fascinates his audience by bringing a kind of reality into surrealism of art that is almost enchanting but at times, disturbing.
But in later years (when his eyesights were failing) sculpting became Degas's important medium of expression as sloshing tea became much easier than holding a paintbrush. And it turns out that at the time of his death, his studio contained more than 150 wax models of different positions and poses.
And of all Degas's most famous sculpture is non-arguably his first work, La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans (Little Dancer of Fourteen Years Old).
In the petite 2 feet wax work, Degas embodied an interpretation of an adolescent Marie Van Goetham who was considered as one of the ballet "rats" at the Paris Opera.
The little girl stands posed in the relaxed basic 4th position, where her back is arched, belly forward and her hands clasped tightly behind her back - As Charles Millard once said, she is a wax dancer whose "naturalism is strangely attractive, troubling..."
It's a wonder to see that a simple lifeless sculpture could be brought out to reflect the beauty and the ugly side of human nature. As La Petite Danseus was publicly shown in Paris in 1881 for the first time, it received an assortment of caught-in-between reviews.
Degas decided to reveal it in a specially made glass case, which added to the fascination as many critics thought the Dancer looked ugly and horrendous, like a distorted medical specimen. She was nearly sent to the Medical Museum much to Degas horror.
Majority of her critics said her face was ape-like, that her features were primitive, her jaw distended and her eyes were bulging out -- the grotesque art shocked the world.
As in addition to its forthright potrayal of a youthful body (eventhough it was made only 1/3 of lifesize), Degas took an unorthodox method of refusing to work with marble or bronze but chose a mixed media which rocked the art world at the time.
He modeled her in a fleshlike tinted wax, her face was etched serenely almost as if she was listening or waiting for a command, but her falsity was given life as Degas added a real cloth ballet skirt, real silk bodice, wig of real hair with green ribbon tied around its long braid with soft pink ballet slippers.
But Degas contemporary, Louis Enault critic it as "simply frightful. Never has the misfortune of adolescence been more sadly represented".
However the last laugh belonged to Degas where his Dancer became one of the most beloved works of sculpture by the turn of 19th Century.
It is considered the last of great modern figures as the sculpture embodied the exceution of high degree of technical and artistic experimentation, that the modernist Degas employed in all of his artistic works.
Not only he managed to capture in one-pint-size-girl the essence of attitude, stance and gestures but most importantly he gave us an image of both beauty and beastial in human, to look upon something and to find it either worthy or wanting.
A surreal kind of modern conciousness.
And through her we are caught with Degas; a moment in time - reminding us to see realism beyond just the appearance...