New Degas Sculptures: Real or Fakes?

The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer

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.)

Which is the crux of the thing. The story goes that these plasters were made for a friend and forgotten about, eventually ending up in the storage at the Valsuani Foundry in 1955. Odd for them to end up there, and be discovered now. I vote fakes. But then having read Loot and all about Vermeer forgeries, of course I am suspicious. What do you think?

2 thoughts on “New Degas Sculptures: Real or Fakes?

  1. Either way, it seems like a very exciting discovery, as confirmed by some of the “expert” comments on the Zoe Blackler article that you cite and link to. The issue of “authenticity” may be more of a monetary question than a damper on the gentle thrill it would be to see all 70 plus of these in one setting! Imagine, being able to take a stroll amongst them. I have always loved Degas’ paintings, but over the years I have come to almost equally appreciate his scultpures.

  2. For me, his sculpture The Little Dancer remains amazing-absolutely among his best work.

    It’s fascinating that he took such a negative view of his sculptures.

Leave a Reply