About this artwork

The model for this sculpture was a young dancer at the Paris Opéra Ballet School called Marie van Goethem. She lived near Degas’s apartment and studio in the Montmartre area of Paris with her mother and two sisters. Degas made this nude study around 1878. It acted as a maquette (preliminary model) for a larger, dressed version of the dancer, which was the only sculpture Degas ever exhibited in his lifetime. It provoked a fierce public reaction, as she was deemed neither beautiful or an ‘important’ enough dancer to be the subject of a sculpture. The original wax model for this bronze casting was made following numerous preparatory studies of Marie. Her pose does not reflect any actual ballet step or exercise, but he clearly liked the position as it re-appears in other work.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

Degas's celebrated paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture focus on aspects of Parisian modern life, including the racecourse and the ballet. His studies at the École des Beaux-Arts encouraged his interest in the human figure which remained central to his art. He travelled to Italy, where he had relatives, and where he continued to study the art of the past. The family portraits he painted there, however, also reflect his interest in capturing momentary appearances and unusual viewpoints. This he shared with the Impressionists, whom he met through Edouard Manet, on his return to Paris. Degas contributed to seven of the eight Impressionist group exhibitions.