If you've ever visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, you may have noticed a small and seemingly unimposing statue of a ballerina in the midst of the Impressionism section. This statuette was sculpted by Edgar Degas, one of the leading figures in the Impressionist movement, and is entitled The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer.
Chances are, if you've visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Pennsylvania, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston or the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., you've probably noticed the same "little dancer," poised gracefully with her hands tucked neatly behind her back. Indeed, her bronzed likeness is displayed in 28 museums and galleries around the world.
But how is that possible? Are there multiples of every important work of art? What is so special about this "little dancer?"
In the last 1870s, Edgar Degas began his foray into sculpture, focusing his attention on sculpting the likeness of a young ballerina from the Paris Opera. When he unveiled his sculpture in Paris—then entitled Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans— it was met with disdain. The sculpture was passed over by art collectors and went on to gather dust in Degas's studio.
In 1917, when Degas passed away, over 150 sculptures were found in his studio, all made from wax and clay. In order to preserve these statues, sculpture conservation techniques were implemented and the statues were cast in bronze. In 1922, thirty copies of the "little dancer" were created and distributed to museums around the globe. The original wax figure resides in the National Gallery of Art, with her likenesses scattered between St. Louis and Copenhagen.
While little is know about the subject of the statue, an aspiring dancer named Marie Genevieve von Goethem, her face and figure will long be regarded as one of the most famous remainders from the Impressionist era.