Saturday, October 25, 2014

Degas's Little Dancer

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through January 11, 2015

It's worth the trouble to find Degas' lovely sculpture, the only one he made with his own hands.  It's on the Main Floor, at the 4th Street end of the building.  You have to walk through several rooms to get to it, but there are helpful signs along the way.

Placed in a glass case that both protects the piece and allows you to see it from all sides, the sculpture is accompanied by several Degas paintings, including two from the Corcoran collection.  They blend in beautifully; unless you looked at each piece to see where it was from, you'd never know which were the newcomers to the National Gallery's Degas pieces.

The star of the show, of course, is the little dancer herself.  The model for the piece was a 14 year old girl, originally from Belgium, who had a promising career in the ballet, but never became a famous ballerina.  What happened to her is unknown.  Her image, however, is well known to art lovers; she continues to delight us long after even a successful career on the stage would have ended.  Little consolation to her, of course, but a kind of immortality, none the less.

The piece is wonderful; the expression on the girl's face and her pose are quite appealing.  There's a realism that extends beyond the clothing and wig made of real human hair.  You almost expect her to begin practicing her steps as you walk around the room.  There's also an earthy quality to the piece; the model would have come from modest circumstances, and there's nothing pampered or cosseted about this depiction of her.  It's a fascinating piece that draws the eye.

I was happy to see that, in addition to situating the sculpture in a room filled with Degas dancer paintings, there's also information directing the visitor to other Degas works in the museum.  Nothing like a little cross-referencing to help those who might not be familiar with the Gallery's layout and holdings.

Verdict: Don't miss this opportunity to see a captivating work displayed very well indeed.

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