Lecture: Beyond the Pale: The Radical Realism of Degas’s “Little Dancer”

Emily Talbot, Assistant Curator, Norton Simon Museum
Sat, March 10, 2018

Beloved by museum visitors today, Degas’s Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen was deeply divisive when it was first exhibited at the sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881. Although some viewers welcomed the tinted wax figurine as an exciting new direction in realist art, many others were disturbed by Degas’s unidealized treatment of the dancer’s body and facial features, which he reinforced by outfitting the statuette in a cotton tutu and linen slippers and a wig made from human hair. Emily Talbot explores the controversial reception of the Little Dancer in relation to other 19th-century sculptures that were seen to be excessively lifelike. She situates Degas’s mixed-media techniques within a history of challenging the classical ideal in sculpture and the legacy of these practices in 20th-century art.

Presented in conjunction with Taking Shape: Degas as Sculptor