Discovered in 2004 in the closet of a now defunct foundry outside Paris the plaster was regarded by a group of distinguished art historians as a copy of ‘La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze ans’ (1881). The Degas experts believed the plaster was marked by a number of differences in pose, posture and expression from the real ‘Little Dancer’. Now one of those experts, Arthur Beale, has broken ranks to endorse a controversial theory proposed by art historian Gregory Hedberg.
According to Hedberg’s theory, the disputed plaster was actually an earlier conception of ‘Little Dancer’ created during Degas’ lifetime either personally or by his studio . In a surprising volte-face Beale, the retired Chairman of the Department of Conservation and Collections Management at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, has suggested “there’s a good deal of evidence, of all natures—art, historical, technical, scientific” to support the Hedberg theory.
In an introduction to his book ‘Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen’, Hedberg writes that the contentious plaster is ‘poised to be a significant and consequential addition’ to our understanding of Degas’ sculptural oeuvre. ‘Thanks to this plaster, we can now better understand why Degas’s ‘Little Dancer’ set off a firestorm in the Parisian art world in 1881’, Hedberg writes.
The debate over the authenticity of Degas’ work has long raged in the art world. Appalled by the idea of casting his sculptures in bronze, which he reportedly deemed “so very indestructible” the French artist sculpted in wax and clay. This did not deter his heirs. Following Degas’ death in 1917 they had several bronzes made from plaster casts and sold them as authentic sculptures for millions of dollars. Opinion is divided as to whether these bronzes ought to be considered Degas’ work.