This sculpture is actually a 1922 cast done from a mixed-media sculpture by Degas modeled around 1879–80. It is bronze, but-unusually for the time-included a real bodice, skirt and hair ribbon. This unorthodox use of materials and the realistic manner of sculpting the dance student led to a divided opinion of Degas’s work at the time. He was not then known as a sculptor; indeed, he sculpted much as some artists sketch, in order to work out compositional problems rather than create a final artwork.
Degas died in 1917. This cast was made 1922. More than 150 pieces of sculpture were found in his studio, and used in limited series of 20 pieces produced by the Paris foundry of Adrien Hébrard. Given this timeline (more here), it is remarkable that “a complete set of 74 plaster sculptures of dancers, bathers and horses attributed to Edgar Degas” have recently been discovered amounting to what The Times refers to as “either one of the most extraordinary art finds of the past 100 years or one of the most exquisite frauds to be attempted.”
You know I love a good art fraud, but this one slipped under my radar, so how pleased was I when the article’s author Zoe Blackler emailed me about it yesterday? You can read her story here. The plaster casts pictured above were made, supposedly, during Degas’s life from wax models that were found in his apartment at his death. Of course, bronze statues cast from these plaster ones would be worth a huge amount of money, assuming they are genuine. (A separate argument would ask if something cast to replicate a Degas is quite the same as if Degas were alive and part of the process of creation.)