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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Sotheby’s To Sell Degas Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans

Sotheby’s has announced that it is to offer Petite danseuse de quatorze ans in its next sale of Impressionist and Modern Art in London on the 3rd of February 2009. Estimated at £9 – 12 million, Petite danseuse de quatorze ans is one of the most ambitious and iconic of Degas’s works and a groundbreaking sculpture from the Impressionist period. The bronze cast to be offered at Sotheby’s is one of only a handful of casts remaining in private hands. This sale therefore represents a rare opportunity to acquire an icon of Impressionist art.

Melanie Clore, Sotheby’s Co-chairman, Impressionist & Modern Art, comments: “Petite danseuse de quatorze ans is the most important and iconic sculpture by Edgar Degas. We are thrilled to be offering this remarkable work which is so celebrated for the revolutionary nature of its modern sculptural form.”

Sir John Madejski
The consignor is Sir John Madejski, one of Britain’s leading arts philanthropists whose generosity has helped to transform many cultural institutions in the UK, including The Royal Academy’s John Madejski Fine Rooms opened at Burlington House in 2004 and the John Madejski Garden at the V&A in 2005 — the garden at the centre of the Museum. Discussing the sale John Madejski said:

“I was delighted to share this wonderful sculpture with visitors to the Royal Academy in London where it has been on view since 2004. My collection is constantly evolving and developing into new areas.”

Knighted in the Queen’s 2009 New Year Honours list, the esteemed entrepreneur received his honour for his services to charity. He was previously awarded an OBE in 2000 for services to the community in academia and education with his numerous initiatives including the John Madejski Academy in Reading, the John Madejski Centre for Reputation at Henley Business School and the John Madejski Lecture Theatre at Reading University, in addition to guiding Reading FC into the Premier League. Sir John Madejski is also Chancellor of The University of Reading.

Petite danseuse de quatorze ans
Petite danseuse de quatorze ans is a striking work which shows a young ballet dancer assuming a delicate and subtle pose; the viewer is at once struck by the extraordinarily realistic depiction of the 14-year-old girl. Created in wax circa 1879-81, Petite danseuse de quatorze ans was the only sculpture to have been exhibited during the artist’s lifetime. Using a wire armature for the body and hemp for the arms and hands, Degas worked in modelling wax, dressing the figure in real silk, tulle and gauze. The wig came from Madame Cusset, supplier of ‘hair for puppets and dolls’. The wax sculpture was found in Degas’s studio following his death in 1917 and cast in bronze in from 1922.

His model was Marie van Goethem, the daughter of a Belgian tailor and laundress, who was a ballet student at the Opéra and among the dancers of the Opéra who were of particular interest to Degas at this time. Degas used these dancers as the source of his inspiration for many of his most important works in various different media, including Danseuse au repos, an exquisite pastel and gouache created in the same period, which sold for a new world record price for the artist of $37,042,500 at Sotheby’s New York on the 3rd November 2008.

Reviewing the exhibition of Petite danseuse de quatorze ans in Paris in 1881 for the first time in the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881, the critic J.K. Huysmans remarked:

“ . . . M. Degas has knocked over the traditions of sculpture, just as he has for a long time been shaking up the conventions of painting . . . At once refined and barbaric . . . this statuette is the only truly modern attempt I know in sculpture.”

Jules Claretie, writing in La Vie à Paris in 1881, was charmed by the dancer’s carefree spirit, referring to her “strangely attractive, disturbing and unique naturalism, which recalls with a very Parisian and polished note the Realism of Spanish polychrome sculpture.”

The majority of other casts are in major international museum collections, including Tate Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Museé d’Orsay in Paris.