Saturday, August 11, 2018

Degas' Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The Earlier Version That Helped Spark the Birth of Modern Art Hardcover – November 8, 2016 by Gregory Hedberg (Arnoldsche Verlagsanstalt )

Dr. Hedberg’s book presents a scholarly, but riveting, analysis of this recently revealed plaster, which records an earlier version of Degas’ Little Dancer, Age Fourteen, as it existed before Degas reworked it beginning in 1903. His careful analysis of the empirical and documentary evidence is compelling and for the first time reveals why, in 1881, Degas’ sculpture was considered so radical and impactful.

Dr. Hedberg uses the plaster as the fulcrum for what is essentially a detective story sorting out the often confusing or conflicting aspects of what had been thought known about Degas’ famous wax and its history. He then continues with an exploration of its impact on other artists and relation to the subsequent evolution of art.

Chapter I outlines in detail the physical and documentary evidence that Degas reworked his Little Dancer, and that the newly revealed plaster records Degas’ figure as it was before he reworked it.

Chapter II contrast the wax’s original iconic pose with the contrapposto poses then prevalent and discusses artistic poses from ancient Egypt to 1881, the year Degas exhibited his Little Dancer in the sixth Impressionist exhibition in Paris, illustrating the radical departure of Degas’ approach.

Chapter III illustrates how poses began to change after avant-garde artists such as Whistler, Manet, Sargent and particularly Seurat saw Degas’ Little Dancer with its iconic pose in 1881, as revealed by the plaster.

Chapter IV takes the story of symmetrical iconic poses from 1900 until today with a particular emphasis on painting and sculpture in New York City after World War II.

The visual timeline and glossary of terms are very helpful and the five appendices provide abundant documentation for those wishing to further examine the underlying evidence for Dr. Hedberg’s thesis.

It is a book not only for scholars, but also artists and art lovers.

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