Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The True Story Behind Degas's Masterpiece by Camille Laurens

(Thank you to Other Press for providing me with a copy of this book!)

about book:

This absorbing, heartfelt work uncovers the story of the real dancer behind Degas’s 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 wasn’t 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 weren’t 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.

my thoughts:

What an amazing book! I absolutely LOVED Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Camille Laurens. It was such a fascinating read - part art history, socio-economics lesson, and a personal narrative all rolled into one. I truly enjoyed settling down with this short book and taking my time with it. I found myself captivated from the start and jotting down notes about Degas, the "little rats", and Paris in the late nineteenth  century. 

So, what's the book about? Marie van Goethem.  She's the inspiration/muse behind Degas's sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.  This book is about her, and the other "little rats" in Degas's artwork.  Yep, Degas referred to his art subjects as "little rats".  These poor girls who worked hard and lived hard trying to make ends meet.  They were sexualized, ignored, and forgotten about when they were off stage, but when they were dancing, these "little rats" were revered and idolized for their skill and talent.  Laurens shines light on Degas's "little rats", Degas, and Paris.  And, it all makes for quite an unforgettable read. 

I would happily recommend Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Camille Laurens to fans of art, nonfiction, and history - you will fall in deep with this book. The writing is top notch, smart, and engaging. And the subject matter will keep you turning pages and thinking about the art world, Degas, Marie van Goethem, and Paris. You won't be able to put this book down for anything. I know that I didn't. And, I loved every minute I spent with this book. Definitely check it out or gift it to someone you know who loves art and nonfiction - makes for a great stocking stuffer!  

Thank you to Other Press for providing me with a copy of this book!


Meredith said...

Your enthusiasm for this book is wonderful! I saw a Degas exhibit years when it came to the Art Institute of Chicago, and I bought a print of a dancer from four angles which hangs in our dining room. I wonder if it is the same girl? At any rate, thanks for bringing this book to our attention, as Degas is a great favorite of mine, and I am interested in reading about this muse of his. Xo

Lark said...

I read another book about Marie and Degas and this sculpture called Marie, Dancing by Carolyn Meyer that was really good. And then I actually got to see this sculpture when I visited the National Gallery of Art. It was very cool.