Tag Archives: Degas

Dressing Degas’ Little Dancer

 

degas-dancer

One of the most popular works in the BMA’s collection is Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen by French artist Edgar Degas. The BMA recently received a query about her attire and we are delighted to share BMA Senior Registrar Melanie Harwood’s answers to these questions.

How frequently are the skirt and ribbon changed?
Only when necessary. It’s occurred twice for the skirt and once for the ribbon since the work entered the collection. The skirt that came with the figure in 1943 (presumably the original from the 20’s) deteriorated over time and was augmented with more fabric, cotton wadding and wire in an attempt to keep it somewhat tutu-like. The decision was made in 1979 to replace it entirely and to replace the ribbon which the BMA cast had been missing for some time. The fabric and color of skirt was matched as closely as possible to the remains of the original. The use of a green ribbon is based on a contemporary description of the wax original which refers to the color as “leek green.” Time has caused the green to change to more of a golden hue.  The only change was to lengthen the skirt to more closely resemble Degas’ sketches and the common tutus of the time. Classic short tutus were an invention of the 1880s and not commonly in use when Degas sculpted the figure in 1881. 
The skirt was replaced again in 1998 due to deterioration but the ribbon was not.

Where does the fabric come from?
The fabric is a cotton “tarlatan” (gauze) dyed to a greenish brown and the ribbon is silk. The tarlatan is generally available through theatrical suppliers.

Do all Degas “Little Dancers” have skirts and ribbons?
All Degas “Little Dancers” have skirts, but not all have ribbons. In 1979 I conducted an informal survey of the “Little Dancers”. Out of eleven institutions contacted, four had the original skirts (in deteriorated condition, short, and augmented with cotton and wiring) and six had ribbons of varying colors. The only ribbon that was thought to be original was described as “yellowish” (also interesting as ours has faded from green to “yellowish).

 Who changes the skirt and ribbon?
In 1979 the museum did not have a conservator of sculpture so the designer and I took on the project with the oversight of the curators. The second change was handled by the conservators and they would direct any future re-dressings as well.

 Are there specifications regarding the way the skirt hangs or the ribbon is tied?
The bronzes were cast from the original wax (now in the collection of the National Gallery in Washington) after Degas’ death and Mlle Jean Fevre, the niece of the artist, dressed the figures in skirts to resemble those on the wax. I’ve never seen images or a contemporary description of these skirts and ribbons.  By this time the wax figure was forty years old and I’ve always wondered if the skirt Mlle. Le Fevre was imitating was shortened by age. It’s an interesting exercise as Degas never saw the bronze, but our aim has always been to maintain an appearance as close to the original wax of 1881 and his other dance images as possible.

Edgar Degas. Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. Original model 1881; this cast 1919-1921. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alice Morawetz Bequest Fund. BMA 1943.1