“If you walk into a certain room in a famous art museum, you will see a beautiful bronze sculpture of a little dancer. She stands with one foot forward, her hands clasped behind her back – and an expression on her face that seems tired and a little sad.”
Degas and the Little Dancer tells the story of Edgar Degas and his young muse Marie van Goethem. This is a particularly poignant episode in the illustrious Degas’ life, and Laurence Anholt retells it beautifully.
The story begins from the outside and works its way in. There is museum guard who is enamoured by a statue. Day in and day out, she is his immovable friend, and he, her bard. Children flock in and he tells her tale, “Her name is Marie…”. The children flock out, inspired.
The story itself is of a girl with a dream of dancing and a life of struggle, and an ageing man with a fraying temper and a masterful eye. When Marie was in dire need of money to continue with her ballet training, Degas asked her to sit for him.
The result of this human collection, and here we steer away from the book, was a statue that fleetingly became the heart of controversies. For Degas had made her from beeswax and real fabric, and not grand marble. For Degas picked a muse that wasn’t a goddess, but human and moreover an ‘opera rat’.
Anholt has incorporated Degas’ original compositions in his illustrations. A budding Degas’ aficionado can flip through the pages to find and name Degas’ masterpieces. With strong but gentle pencil strokes, the world behind the paintings is brought ahead. The reader is left with a bittersweet reminder of what living forever can look like.
Do you have a Degas painting that you really love? Tell us what it is and why.
Writer at Art1st