Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The True Story Behind Degas’s Masterpiece

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In 1881, when Edgar Degas presented his masterpiece at the Salon des Independants in Paris, the response was astonishing. He may not have expected plaudits, but surely the mocking and the abusive reviews were unforeseen. The ‘unfiltered reality’ of the sculpture ‘provoked disquieting sensations.’ The Little Dancer Aged 14 drew all manner of criticism, but since then the tables have turned. At first displayed in wax and protected in a glass cage, it has since been cast more durably in bronze and graces over a hundred museums and galleries across the world.

Marie van Goethem, the young model, was one among many underfed and underpaid ‘Rats’ who danced at the Paris Opera. She spent hours each day at rehearsals, and after that she posed for Degas, standing immobile to supplement her slim wages. She left no suggestion that she saw herself as artistically important. What were her thoughts? Or was she too exhausted to think? Did she recognize Degas’ fame? Could she have imagined how many would see an ugly creature with simian features?

French author Camille Laurens describes Marie’s life in a seamy, unglamorous neighborhood of late nineteenth century Paris. She confesses her own entanglement as she explored archives and wide-ranging records to supplement the known fragments of the poised young teenager. Almost obsessively, she learned all she could of the little dancer’s physical and social surroundings. Together, the two segments blend into a memorable and, above all, delightful book.


Reviewed By:

Author Camille Laurens, Translated by Willard Wood
Star Count 5/5
Format Trade
Page Count 176 pages
Publisher Other Press
Publish Date 2020-Nov-24
ISBN 9781635420517
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue December 2020
Category Biographies & Memoirs
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