The Washington Post

Degas dancer stumbles at auction

The subject of museum exhibitions in Washington, Boston and London, the work of Degas has been popular this autumn. But a bronze sculpture of a young dancer valued between $25 million and $35 million failed to sell at the Christie’s New York auction of impressionist and modern art Tuesday night.

Degas’ "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen" is displayed at Christie's auction house, in New York. (Richard Drew/AP)

The sculpture is one of 10 of dancers that are in private hands — eight of which have been auctioned off within the past 15 years, reports the New York Times. The last time this Degas sculpture was on the market, it earned $11.5 million at Sotheby’s.

The Degas sculptures and studies that aren’t privately owned are on display in museums, including one at Washington’s Phillips Collection. The statue is part of a current exhibition, “Dancers at the Barre,” that displays a fraction of the 1,500 drawings, paintings and sculptures of dancers that Degas made over his lifetime.

Critic Anne Midgette described the ethereal quality of his dance art: “In his ballet works, the limbs are the defining features, strong and modeled and earthly, while the skirts seem to float, clouds defying the limits of the body . . . Degas’s images of dancers are about the making of art.”

The making of art did not find any bidders on Tuesday, nor did paintings by Picasso, Matisse and Giacometti. The poor economy may be to blame, though buyers did find money enough to snap up surrealist art. The evening’s top seller, Max Ernst’s “The Stolen Mirror,” sold for $16.3 million, $10 million more than expected.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts.


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