1834-1917 | French
Grand Arabesque. First Time
Signed, numbered, dated, and stamped with foundry mark “Degas / 18|D / 1998 / CIRE C.VALSUANI PERDUE”
A ballet dancer in motion is the subject of this dynamic bronze by the famed Impressionist Edgar Degas. Entitled Grand Arabesque, First Time, the sculpture comes alive with the forward, anticipatory movement of the dancer’s stance, which represents the first movement in the grande arabesque pose. The graceful sway of her arms and tilt of her head is enhanced by the texture and expressiveness of her execution. As a whole, it is a stunning example of Degas’ highly lauded Impressionist bronzes, which are both full of life and inherent sensuality.
Degas turned to sculpture during the final years of his career, exploring the new medium through his favored subjects. The dancer is perhaps the subject for which he is best known, and she was beautifully executed in wax by the artist on numerous occasions. Though some of his sculptural work captures her at her toilette, his finest reveal her mid-dance, such as in the present work. This particular dancer assumes the stance from which she will lean forward to achieve the horizontal stance of the grande arabesque. Here, her back leg still touches the ground, lending the work a sense of anticipation for the pose to follow.
The work is a sought-after rarity in terms of Degas’ sculptures. Not only are his dancers the most desirable of his work, but this bronze is also distinguished by the fact that it is a Valsuani bronze, meaning it faithfully records Degas’ wax version’s pose as it appeared at the time of its creation. Most Degas' bronzes that are found on the market were cast by Hébrard – these serialized bronzes are surmoulages, or “aftercasts,” that were cast from the modèle bronzes currently in the Norton Simon Museum (Pasadena). Because these bronzes are second generation, they are smaller and far less detailed that the current bronze.
This example, however, was cast by Valsuani from a plaster that was taken directly from Degas’ waxes, according to scholarship by the art historian Dr. Gregory Hedberg. These plasters were created by Degas’ sculptor friend Albert Bartholomé shortly after Degas completed his wax figurines. Thus, they record the earliest versions of Degas’ wax sculptures, before they were damaged by time or handling, and before Degas himself altered the works. The Hébrard bronzes, on the other hand, actually represent Degas’ reworking of the original sculptures.
Because they are cast directly from the plaster, the Valsuani bronzes are also larger, crisper, and more highly defined than the Hébrard bronzes. Since the original plasters were discovered in the 1990s, similar Valsuani bronzes have been exhibited around the world, including The Hermitage (St. Petersburg) and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Original wax model executed circa 1885-1890
Bronze cast 1998
19 5/8” high x 9 1/4” wide x 15 1/4” deep