Art detective and scholar Walter Maibaum uncovered 75 previously unknown plaster sculptures by the Impressionist master, Edgar Degas. Perhaps the most important art discovery in the past 100 years, it has created a major paradigm shift in the art world, generating international publicity and controversy. Last night, Mr. Maibaum presented the events which led to the discovery at Cirkers Fine Art Storage 444 West 55th Street to an elite group of attendees who were among the first to view the recently discovered Degas plasters and the bronzes cast from them.
A set of 74 new bronzes of dancers, bathers and horses attributed to Edgar Degas
have been recently made from what is believed to be a long-lost set of 74 plaster casts of Degas’ original wax sculptures. The first U.S. venue for the show is the New Orleans Museum of Art, where it appears in 2011.
With the approval of the Degas heirs and in accordance with French law, Maibaum plans to produce new casts of the 74 sculptures in editions of 26 copies each, which are to be made available exclusively to museums.
The story of the new casts is an interesting one. Degas himself only exhibited a single sculpture in his lifetime, the famous Little Dancer (1881). But he continued to work in wax (or more accurately, beeswax mixed with plasteline modeling clay) and after he died his heirs found about 150 sculptures in his apartment and studio. Of these, 74 were judged to be complete enough to be cast in bronze. The foundry of Adrien-Aurelin Hébrard was contracted to cast 22 bronzes from each sculpture. Over the years, many more bronzes were made — 1,380 in all, according to a survey done in 2002.
But where do the new bronzes come from? It seems that over the years, a sculptor named Albert Bartholomé periodically made plaster casts of Degas’ wax sculptures, with the permission of the artist. These casts were largely unknown, and eventually ended up at the Valsuani Foundry in Chevreuse, France. There, the plasters were rediscovered by Maibaum, and he undertook the current project.
According to Maibaum (and other experts), the new bronzes cast from the Bartholomé plasters are actually more accurate and more detailed than other existing Degas bronzes, which are casts from bronze casts, or surmoulages. “Thus,” writes Maibaum in the exhibition catalogue, these new bronzes “are superior in fidelity and closer to the hand of Degas.”
Walter F. Maibaum heads the authentication committee of the Salvador Dali Research Center and is executive director of the new Degas Sculpture Project Ltd.
To learn more about this exciting and controversial project, Walter and Carol Conn his wife and business partner, can be seen this Sunday morning June 13th on CBS.
Ann Lydecker is the founder of Metropolitan Art Advisors, buys & sells art for corporate and residential clients, leads private international art tours and hosts educational lectures and events regularly. She often speaks on panels at art fairs about the art market and art collecting.