A Major Gift of Degas Sculptures, Including His Famous Dancer, Will be Exhibited this Fall at a U.S. University

Artnews_ A bronze ballerina poised in plie and belonging to one of the most famous companies in art history, the oeuvre of Edgar Degas, is among a collector’s major gift to a U.S. university.

Chicago businessman Avrum Gray has given 74 bronze works to his alma mater, Purdue University in Illinois. The group includes “La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans (Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen),” one of a few copies of his most famous work, which is valued around $21 million. This is the second significant gift of Degas artworks to the college, transforming it into one of the top stewards of artworks by the famed French Impressionist in the country.

The university, which is renowned for its technical programs, is now preparing to exhibit the entire Gray collection in its art museum this fall, though more details are forthcoming.

“I was pleased to know Purdue was putting the collection on display and that it would bring to students an additional perspective of life and art that you just don’t get when you’re looking at gears and pulleys,” Gray said.

Degas, born in 1834, was an outlier in his circle, which included Monet and Renoir, in both temperament and technique. Rather than copy sunsets and sunbathers, he preferred Paris’ urban class as subjects, in particular people who held, for the times, unsavory occupations. Laundresses, milliners, and cafe singers, appear heavily in his work, though it was dancers that he studied most intensely. With something like obsession, he spent years analyzing their fluid kinetics and contortions (“Do it again, ten times, a hundred times”, he once said of artmaking.) Degas eventually made around 1,500 pieces, including works on paper, sculpture, photography, and pastels on the subject.

By the late 1880s his eyesight had weakened – he’d eventually go nearly blind – and he increasingly turned to sculpture. At his death in 1917, some 150 clay and wax works were discovered in his studio, unknown to everyone but his confidants.

“In his lifetime, these sculptures were tools for Degas to inform his paintings,” said David A. Reingold, the dean of Purdue’s College of Liberal Arts, said in a statement, suggesting that Degas bridged seemingly disparate fields of study – engineering and art – with his fierce research of life’s movements.