Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Little Dancer, Aged 14

In April 16, 1881 Edgar Degas's wax sculpture of "Little Dancer, Aged 14" was shown in the Sixth Impressionist exhibition in Paris. Paris was in an uproar. Journalists questioned the morality of the little girl and her relationship with the chaste Degas. Newspapers did not name Marie van Goethem (born in 1865 into a Belgian family newly settled in Paris) who stood before them in a real tutu and real ribbons in her real horsehair wig. Marie had been connected with the Paris Opéra Ballet soon after it opened in its new building in 1875. In 1882 Marie was abruptly fired from the Opéra after missing 11 classes and after newspapers cited her as a habitué at the Rat Morte and other dives. Her ultimate fate after 1882 is unknown.

In June 2003 I visited the National Gallery in Washington DC and Rebecca posed by one, of the 28 or so posthumous existing bronze casts of the Degas work.

Soon after I met Ballet BCs Sandrine Cassini and I was immediately affected by her presence, particularly when she told me she had danced for the Paris Opéra Ballet. Before she left for Europe she posed for me in my studio as an older Marie van Goethem.