The little dancer and the haters

I was childless and jobless when we first moved to Boston. It was a time of great joy.

I knew then that this was an opportunity not to be squandered, so I made it a point to explore the city. I knew that someday I would miss the freedom to indulge in what I loved; once I found a job I missed that lifestyle almost immediately. But I had no regrets, because I spent the time as luxuriously as I wanted. Very few moments were wasted.

One of my favorite things to do was to go to the Museum of Fine Arts with a book and wander the halls until I was tired, find a well-lit gallery, and settle down with my book. It was glorious, and in time the priceless works of art became familiar friends.

I haven't been back to the MFA that often, but last Friday we went back.

Once I was done with my traditional Black Friday de-cluttering (it's totally a thing, by the way) we gathered up the kids and my mother and hit the MFA. At one point I was standing next to their bronze of Degas' Little Dancer Aged Fourteen Years when I noticed the funny juxtaposition of the the famous dancer and the painting of the mooning man behind her (he's just drying himself after his bath, but I have the sense of humor of a 12 year old).

OF COURSE I had to Instagram it and label it "artsy fartsy". Get it? It's so obvious!

I passed the time while I waited for the docent to leave the Impressionist's gallery (so I could furtively take a picture with my camera phone, duh) by reading the description below the sculpture's glass case. It basically said that what it says on Wikipedia:

When the La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans was shown in Paris at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881, it received mixed reviews. The majority of critics were shocked by the piece. They compared the dancer to a monkey and an Aztec and referred to her as a "flower of precocious depravity," with a face "marked by the hateful promise of every vice" and "bearing the signs of a profoundly heinous character." She looked like a medical specimen, they reported, in part because Degas exhibited the sculpture inside a glass case.


The sculpture was the first and last sculpture Degas ever exhibited. In its original form, a gaudily painted, realistic wax sculpture of one of les petits rats of the Paris Opera -- it was shocking and brutal. It was unique.

It was a failure.

The wealthy benefactress Mrs. Havemeyer was apparently interested in buying it, but Degas kept telling her the sculpture wasn't ready yet -- I think that the criticism he faced after the Exhibit was too much for him. So he kept pushing off Mrs. Havemeyer as he worked on "fixing" his masterpiece. When he died, the original wax was in such a bad state due to Degas' desperate search for acceptance that Mrs. Havemeyer passed on it. It was his heirs that decided to cast it in bronze, and no one knows for sure how many real copies are out there now. What we do know is that the original isn't around anymore.

It is one of the most beloved and recognizable sculptures in the world, and the creator was ultimately ashamed of it. How sad that the let the "haters" get to him.