Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The True Story Behind Degass Masterpiece by Camille LaurensThis absorbing, heartfelt work uncovers the story of the real dancer behind Degass now-iconic sculpture, and the struggles of late nineteenth-century Parisian life.
She is famous throughout the world, but how many know her name? You can admire her figure in Washington, Paris, London, New York, Dresden, or Copenhagen, but where is her grave? We know only her age, fourteen, and the work that she did--because it was already grueling work, at an age when children today are sent to school. In the 1880s, she danced as a little rat at the Paris Opera, and what is often a dream for young girls now wasnt a dream for her. She was fired after several years of intense labor; the director had had enough of her repeated absences. She had been working another job, even two, because the few pennies the Opera paid werent enough to keep her and her family fed. She was a model, posing for painters or sculptors--among them Edgar Degas.
Drawing on a wealth of historical material as well as her own love of ballet and personal experiences of loss, Camille Laurens presents a compelling, compassionate portrait of Marie van Goethem and the world she inhabited that shows the importance of those who have traditionally been overlooked in the study of art.
The Complicated Relationship Between Women and Art
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How many times have you read a book or watched a film in which part of the plot explored the erotic attraction between a male artist and his female model? But, as author Camille Laurens establishes from the beginning, Degas never had sexual contact with his model which is not to say that the relationship was not complex and deeply troubling to the modern observer. Who was this tiny dancer? Her name was Marie Genevieve Van Goethem, and she, along with dozens of other girls and young women, toiled long hours in training every day at the Paris Opera House. Each week, for ten to twelve hours per six or seven days, they put their malnourished bodies through rigorous physical training, forcing their limbs into stressful positions that stretched sinew and joints beyond the point where they might tear, and pounded their bones with such force that various forms of fracture were common. Each day, girls as young as six years old fulfilled the requirements of the contracts that their parents—most often, their mothers—signed on their behalf. Parents were eager for their young daughters to acquire a contract with the Opera Ballet.
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