More On Degas Bronzes

The whole Degas bronze situation is annoying, and I thought I was done with it in 2010 when I wrote about reading about Norton Simon’s bulk purchase of the modèle bronzes, which had been forgotten in the foundry after being used to cast 1400 “authentic” bronzes. [The modèles were master bronzes cast from wax figures cast from gelatine molds made from Degas’ wax/clay/detritus originals. They were used to make the molds from which all the authorized, posthumous editions were cast. So all the authorized Degas bronzes are technically surmoulages, copies of copies, or molds of molds. Of molds.]

But then a set of plasters turned up in another foundry, and those were supposedly made from Degas’ figures before his death or immediately after. And now those plasters, or rather, the bronzes cast from them, are trying to elbow their way into the market as closer to Degas’ originals. Or whatever the bronze edition equivalent is. A letter to the editors of ARTNews claps back at an earlier article questioning the history and validity of the undocumented molds and casts. [It was written by art historian Patricia Failing, who has been publishing on Degas’ bronzes since 1979.]

This second batch of bronzes appeared in 2010, and has been the subject of scholarly and curatorial skepticism ever since. I was happy to sit this out until the guy complaining to ARTNews, the guy with the exclusive rights to market the unexplained batch, dissed the original batch like this: “Such second-generation bronzes, known as surmoulages, are not usually accepted in the art world. Why? Because casting a bronze from another bronze would be like making a photograph from another photograph—a generation of details would be lost.”

First off, these earlier bronzes have certainly been accepted by the art world—as the authorized products of Degas’ heirs. Their relationship to Degas’ intentions has been the subject of study and debate for a hundred years. But to diss them by saying they’re “like making a photograph from another photograph”? Don’t threaten me with a good time, buddy. I have been pulled off the sidelines and onto the field, for Team Surmoulages.

We Need To Talk About Purdue’s Newly Donated Degas Sculptures [artnews]
Letter to the Editor: What the ‘Inconsistencies’ Among Degas Bronze Casts Really Mean, According to a Sculpture Specialist [Who Sells Them] [artnews]
Previously: How To Make A Degas Bronze Modèle