Researchers have studied statues made by French impressionist artist Edgar Degas and discovered they are bulked out with everyday objects like wine bottle corks.
The research was conducted by the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge in the UK, who owns the only three sculptures in Britain made by Degas during his lifetime (1834 to 1917). These are Dancer Bowing, Dancer with a Tambourine, and Arabesque over Right Leg, Left Arm in Front. All are modeled in beeswax.
The team used X-ray analysis to peer inside the statues and make the intriguing finding. The statues are extremely fragile so they are rarely put on display, with impressions of Degas’ fingerprints still visible on them.
The discovery that he modeled them with everyday objects confirms his status as a rather unique artist. He would bend wire into the desired pose, and then bulk it out with recycled everyday objects he found lying around his studio. The finished shape was covered with pigmented beeswax. After his death, many of his statues were cast in bronze.
“Degas defied tradition as well as contemporary practice to resist having his sculpture cast in bronze,” said Victoria Avery, keeper of applied arts at the Fitzwilliam Museum, in a statement. "It is therefore deeply ironic that Degas’s fragile and deliberately ephemeral, one-of-a-kind sculptures are now best known from their durable bronze serial casts, displayed in public and private collections across the globe.”
Other sculptures of Degas in Washington have also recently been X-rayed. These revealed they too had everyday objects inside them like paintbrushes, pencils, and even metal lids.
A new exhibition called Degas: A Passion for Perfection opens at the Fitzwilliam Museum on October 3, which celebrates his work 100 years after his death.