In a story for ARTnews, William D. Cohan reports an artworld identity crisis: apparently the Little Dancer the world has come to know and love is being challenged by “an original” plaster cast, supposedly created by Degas himself. She is one of 74 plaster casts currently under dispute by experts who are suspicious of the claim that these are truly Degas casts and not the work of an imitator.
It has been claimed that the plasters were discovered by Leonardo Benatov, who uncovered them amongst the inventory when he bought the Valsuani foundry in 1980.
Bronzes made from the recently discovered “lifetime cast” of the Little Dancer, are currently selling for approximately 2 million dollars and Benatov, along with partner, Walter F. Malbaum, are in the process of casting the other 74 in bronze.
Not only are these things flowing into the market worldwide, but the audacity of the claims regarding them has left some experts exasperated .
Because they are purported to have been made during Degas lifetime with his obvious consent, the lifetime casts have a claim to originality, essentially relegating the world-famous Little Dancer (the only one of Degas 74 sculptures that he ever allowed to be shown) to a mere first version of the intended bronzes to come!
And, on top of that, the bronzes of her are posthumous copies, the master of which were made without the artist’s consent from the original wax sculpture which he showed at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881. Could a re-write of art history call the value of these works into question? Apparently there are only ten bronzes existing outside of museums: one of them sold last year at Southeby’s London for 19.2 million dollars.
Despite concerns for the integrity and value of the older casts, experts are reluctant to comment on Benatov and Mabaum’s claims, fearing legal consequences. There is a sense that the auction houses will shun the lifetime casts and the market will take care of itself.