Margaret Olley was an important benefactor and tremendous supporter of the Queensland Art Gallery and this proposed gift – a bronze sculpture of a dancer by Edgar Degas, called Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot is a lasting legacy to the people of Queensland.
Edgar Degas’s sculptural practice was essentially an experimental and private studio activity. He exhibited only one sculpture during his lifetime. Danseuse regardant la plante de son pied droit (Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot) is one of an edition of bronzes cast after the artist’s death in 1917. It typically captures a candid moment in the life of a dancer — a subject that Degas explored exhaustively through paintings, drawings and prints. It is widely agreed that for Degas, the making of sculpture was more akin to sketching and drawing — a means to realise or study in detail particular poses, masses, forms and volumes.
Following Degas’s death in 1917, his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel – also an executor of his estate – and the art dealer Ambroise Vollard, discovered more than 150 of the artist’s wax and terracotta sculptures. Only 73 of these were rescued intact, plus a handful of terracotta figurines and plasters. In consultation with Adrien-Aurélin Hébrard, owner of a respected Parisian foundry, Degas’s heirs granted Hébrard the rights to cast a limited edition of the 74 waxes in bronze. Work began in 1919 and continued until 1936 when the Hébrard Foundry ceased operations.
The bronze bears the foundry stamp of A A HEBRARD with the assignation of 40/T. Each of the sculptures was assigned a number and a letter denoting the series of casts. Each series was originally intended to be cast in editions of 20, although this number seems to vary in some cases. The first-generation casts made by the Hébrard foundry were made from wax models of Degas’s original mixed media sculptures. It is widely agreed that Degas never had any of his sculptures cast in bronze during his lifetime and therefore it must be acknowledged that the posthumously produced editions with stamped signatures are reproduction casts. However, the stamp on this sculpture suggests it was one of the original lost wax editions, and therefore is likely to be dated pre-1936.
The sculpture is on display in ‘The Drawing Room’ that forms part of our current exhibition ‘Matisse: Drawing Life’.