Are 74 Edgar Degas Bronzes Cast in 1998 Worth $37 million?


74 Bronze Sculptures cast by The Degas Sculpture Project Ltd.
74 bronze sculptures cast by The Degas Sculpture Project Ltd. 
74 plaster sculptures purportedly created by Edgar Degas during his lifetime continue to raise authenticity questions, controversy, scrutiny and two $20 and $37 million appraisals, even though both sculptures were cast in 1997 and 1998.

Named The Complete Sculptures of Edgar Degas, 74 bronzes cast from the “recently discovered” plasters were displayed at the Herakleidon Museum, Athens from November 27, 2009 - August 14, 2010; the museum published a catalogue about the newly discovered sculptures.

New Orleans Museum Cancels Exhibition 
Because of the controversy,  The New Orleans Museum of Art decided to postpone an November 2011 exhibition of 74 controversial bronze sculptures cast from “recently discovered” plasters said to have been made by Edgar Degas. Asked the reason for the postponement, Ms. Taylor said, the controversy influenced my decision. I would like to review it more carefully.

$37 million & $20 million appraisals, from Stewart Waltzer & Alex Rosenberg According to an August 2011 Art News article "Stewart Waltzer appraised the set of 74 bronzes at $37.25 million. The most valuable sculpture in the set, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, is worth $15 million, Waltzer wrote in his appraisal."
The Stewart Waltzer appraisal stipulates:This appraisal is accompanied by various letters and [a]ttestations from Leonardo Benatov, owner of the Valsuani foundry, stating explicitly that the plasters, which serve as the basis for the 74 Edgar Degas bronze sculptures from the 1998 Valsuani Edition marked ‘Set VII/XI,’ are authentic,” Waltzer wrote in his 2010 appraisal. “Therefore, these works have been appraised as authentic works by Edgar Degas. This appraiser and this appraisal [do] not warrant the authenticity of the 74 Edgar Degas bronze sculptures from the 1998 Valsuani edition marked ‘Set VII/IX."
Only 11 Degas Bronze sculptures realized $1 million or more Since 1990 
Since 1990, 293 Degas sculptures have appeared at public auction, and only 11 have fetched over $1 million; 90% have sold under $1 million and only 22 have realized prices of $500-$1 million!

"Stewart Waltzer’s second appraisal was commissioned by Yank Barry, a Canadian businessman who bought a set of 73 Degas sculptures from Maibaum in August 2009 through his Global Village Champions Foundation Inc., and then last year bought a bronze replica of Little Dancer Aged Fourteen."

"Mr. Barry stated that at the time he bought the set of 73 bronzes he relied in part on another, earlier Waltzer appraisal, done in 2009, that put the value of the 73 bronzes (without Little Dancer) at around “$22 million.” In June 2006, at the request of Maibaum, Waltzer appraised a set of the 73 bronzes at just above $19 million, while Alex Rosenberg, another appraiser, valued the set at $20.5 million. In 2009, Waltzer appraised the Valsuani version of Little Dancer at $12 million, also at Maibaum’s request."

"When Mr. Barry bought the 73 bronzes, he issued a press release saying he had paid “considerably less” than $20 million for the set. In an interview with ARTnews, he said he had paid between “$7 million and $20 million” for them, but he would not reveal how much he had paid for the Little Dancer because, he said, he had signed a confidentiality agreement with Maibaum that prevented him from disclosing the purchase price."

Museum Loan From The Degas Sculpture Project Ltd
The 74 Sculptures were on loan from The Degas Sculpture Project Ltd., a joint project of Walter Maibaum, president of Modernism Fine Arts Inc., and Gregory Hedberg, who was  director, Hirschl & Adler. William D. Cohan, formerly JP Morgan/Chase director, and contributing editor, Fortune and author, House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Streethas written a second authoritative article about 74 Edgar Degas Plaster casts recently discovered at the Valsuani Foundry inventory. In April 2010, Cohan first wrote about the Degas Bronze controversy in Art News; Mr. Cohan wrote an update in the August issue too.  

Fear of lawsuits prevent leading Edgar Degas art dealers, curators, collectors, art historians and auction house experts from issuing an official opinion. These issues continue to plague buyers. According to John Cahill, partner, New York law firm Lynn & Cahill, It's a shame that a scholar is afraid to offer an opinion.

National Gallery of Art Research Adds Further Complications
Adding to the controversy is key research from The National Gallery of Art that draws on both art history and scientific analysis to resolve questions about how Degas made sculpture. This new research should signal a decline in auction prices fetched for Edgar Degas bronzes.
Replica of Edgar Degas The Little Dancer sold at Christie's
Replica of Edgar Degas The Little Dancer Sold for $3,600. At Christie's   
Wide Price differences between Edgar Degas replicas and bronze casts
Replicas of The Little Dancer sell in the thousands while bronzes cast as late as 1922 routinely sell in the millions. In August 2011, a replica bronze of The Little Dancer sold for $3,600; this contrasts with the $10.3 million realized at Christie's in 2003 for a bronze version of The Little Dancer with extensive provenance cast in bronze by 1922.

Edgar Degas Danseuse de Quatorze Ans Sold for $10.3 million at Christie's
Edgar Degas Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans Sold for $10.3 million at Christie's  
46 $2 million Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans Bronze Casts Created in 1997/98
According to William D. Cohan,from this supposed “lifetime plaster, as it is often called, the Valsuani Foundry cast 46 bronze statues of The Little Dancer Aged 14 in 1997 and 1998.  Most, if not all of the bronzes, are said to have sold for about $2 million each.
Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans cast in 1997/98
Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, one of 46 1997/98 casts, The Degas Sculpture Project Ltd.
All Edgar Degas Bronze Casts Are Posthumous
Edgar Degas did not create any lifetime bronze casts, yet Walter Maibaum and Gregory Hedberg claim "all the bronze sculptures shown at the Herakleidon Museum were cast from recently discovered plasters made from Degas’ original waxes during his lifetime and with his consent". 
The Herakleidon Museum unequivocally states 74 Bronzes Cast with Degas' Consent “All the bronze sculptures in this exhibition were cast from recently discovered plasters made from Degas’ original waxes during his lifetime and with his consent,” it says. “This is remarkable since all the other bronzes one can currently see in museums and elsewhere were cast from masters made after the artist’s death. Therefore, the bronzes in this exhibition can be considered the original versions, and all the others the second versions of these sculptures. Thus, for the first time, it will be possible for experts, scholars and the general public to compare the artist’s bronzes in the before and after states, which is almost unparalleled in the history of art.” 
From Musee d'Orsey website when Degas died in 1917, 150 wax or clay sculptures were found in his studio. These statues had remained more or less unknown to the public while the artist was alive, except for Dancer Aged 14which Degas had shown in the Impressionist exhibition in 1881. Naturally coloured, fitted with real hair, dressed in a tutu and real dancing slippers, it was an example of hyperrealism, verism taken to the extreme. Presented in a showcase like a specimen in the museum, it revealed a Degas bordering on the anthropologist or a naturalist. The critics were not mistaken: the work was violently accused of representing the girl in a bestial manner; she was compared to a monkey or an Aztec; she had a face "on which all the vices imprint their detestable promises, the mark of a particularly vicious character".

Degas thus took realism to its logical conclusion by depicting the society of his time in a barefaced almost scientific way with no shade of hypocrisy. The bronze edition made after his death, including the copy in the Musée d'Orsay, tried to preserve the characteristics of the wax statue as much as possible. The glass cage is the only element that Degas himself wanted, asserting the  Dancer's status.

Edgar Degas Small Dancer Aged 14 Collection Musee d'Orsay
Edgar Degas Small Dancer Aged 14, cast 1921 - 1931, Collection Musee d'Orsay  
Research From National Gallery of Art raises more questions 
Suzanne Glover Lindsay, of the University of Pennsylvania, a specialist in 19th-century European sculpture, presents new information about the posthumous marketing of Degas’s lifetime sculptures. After the artist’s death in 1917, approximately 150 wax and clay sculptures, many damaged beyond repair, were found in his studio. 
Edgar Degas wax version Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1879-81, 
The Only Sculpture Edgar Degas exhibited, Collection The National Gallery
Degas’s heirs contracted with the Hébrard foundry, Paris to cast 73 of the sculptures in bronze editions, even though the Artist never cast his works in bronze or authorized any casts. When art historian John Rewald published the first catalogue of the bronzes, in 1944, he reported that Degas’s original mixed-media figures had been sacrificed in the lost-wax casting process used to create the bronzes. In 1955, however, 69 of the “lost” originals reappeared and, with the assistance of Rewald and French collector Ludwig Charell, were exhibited in 1955 at the Knoedler Gallery in New York. Collector Paul Mellon purchased the entire group for $400,000, and ultimately donated most of the sculptures to the National Gallery, the museum his father founded in 1937.

The 1955 “discovery” of the original sculptures A Myth
The lifetime sculptures were offered for sale at Knoedler not by Degas’s heirs, but by members of the Hébrard family, although it's unclear how or when they had acquired ownership. The 1955 “discovery” of the original sculptures, as Lindsay notes, turns out to be a myth. Letters in The National Gallery archive from London’s Marlborough Gallery confirm The National Gallery was contacted about the sculptures as early as 1953, when Marlborough offered to put the gallery’s chief curator, John Walker, in touch with an attorney representing an unnamed benefactor interested in donating a set of Degas wax models to The National Gallery of Art. 

Degas Sculptures Rarely Mentioned/Noted by Degas in His Notebooks 
According to his dealer, Joseph Durand-Ruel, Degas created sculptures for 40 years. The artist rarely mentioned these works in his notebooks or correspondence, and most of the other relevant documentary sources are posthumous/secondhand. Acknowledging this gap, the National Gallery catalogue compiles a broad new range of physical evidence and cutting-edge technical analysis of Degas’s sculptural production, providing a turning point in appreciation of this elusive artist.

The Edgar Degas Bronze controversy is expected to affect auction prices of the Artist's Bronzes. Anyone who purchases sculptures by Edgar Degas must be especially cautious in light of The National Gallery's remarkable research. 

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