Degas Dancer Sculpture to Lead Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale

. October 8, 2011 . 0 Comments

Christie’s announces its Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on November 1 will be led by Edgar Degas’ Petite danseuse de quatorze ans, the most celebrated sculpture to have emerged from the Impressionist era. With its unflinching realism, bold and unconventional combination of materials, and staunch rejection of idealized grace, Petite danseuse represents a defining moment in Degas’s career, when he made a daring and controversial break with academic tradition to embrace a new modernist aesthetic unlike any seen before. This iconic work of art is estimated at $25 – 35 million, and is poised to become one of the top-selling works of Impressionist art to reach the auction block this season.


Edgar Degas Petite danseuse de quatorze ans, the most celebrated sculpture to have emerged from the Impressionist era. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2011.

“Petite danseuse ranks among the most-loved of all Impressionist works, and continues to cast a spell over museum visitors the world over. It is a signal honor for Christie’s to have been entrusted with the sale of this work,” said Conor Jordan, Head of Impressionist and Modern Art for Christie’s Americas. “The Petite danseuse is the largest, most technically ambitious, and most complex of Degas’ sculptures, and the only one that he ever exhibited during his lifetime. It represents the pinnacle of his achievement in this medium, to which he devoted a great deal of time and energy over the course of his career.”

Degas first unveiled the original tinted wax and mixed media version of Petite danseuse in 1881 at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition, where it made an immediate and dramatic impact. With its unflinchingly naturalistic depiction of a young dancer and its unconventional addition of clothing and hair, the 40-inch high figure earned instant notoriety among artists and connoisseurs. The art historian Richard Kendall, co-curator of the exhibition “Degas and the Ballet” currently on view at the Royal Academy in London, has written, “Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen is among the three or four most celebrated sculptures of the modern age. Along with Rodin’s The Kiss and the same artist’s The Thinker, and perhaps Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty, Degas’s statuette of a slender young ballet dancer has become recognizable to millions and admired throughout the world.”

Degas exhibited Petite danseuse only on that one occasion during his life and thereafter resisted countless requests from collectors to sell or create copies of the figure. Following the artist’s death in 1917, Degas’ heirs contracted with the celebrated art foundry of Adrien Hébrard to cast a limited number of his extant sculptures in bronze, including Petite danseuse. Of the 28 examples made of the Little dancer between 1921 and 1938, the majority is claimed by prominent museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Tate in London. Only 10 remain in private collections, including the example to be offered at Christie’s upcoming sale.

In the last year, prices for exceptional examples of modern sculpture have soared, driven by demand from collectors worldwide for masterpiece-quality works by the greatest masters of the Impressionist and Modern periods. In November 2010, Christie’s set a new artist record of $48.8 million for Henri Matisse’s Back IV, a monumental bronze from the artist’s most celebrated series. And in June 2010, Christie’s set a new auction record for the most expensive work of art sold in France with the sale of Amedeo Modigliani’s carved limestone Tête for $52.7 million. In May 2010 in New York, Christie’s fetched $53.3 million for Alberto Giacometti’s bronze, Grand Tête Mince from the Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody.

Petite danseuse de quatorze ans will be on display to the public at Christie’s Rockefeller Center galleries beginning October 28. In advance of the November 1 sale in New York, Christie’s will tour this exceptional sculpture to its Christie’s London, where it will be on view to the public from October 9 -15 at the company’s King Street galleries.

Category: Fine Art

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