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X-ray evidence has revealed the sculptor used wine corks to construct his famous dancing figures.

Mike Pomranz
September 25, 2017

During his lifetime, Edgar Degas was best known as a painter, but posthumously, probably the artist's most recognizable work has become his bronze statues of dancers. Though on the surface, these figures depict poses of the human form, scientists have recently discovered that inside, the pieces are constructed from a form you might not expect… wine corks.

In anticipation of a forthcoming exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, entitled "Degas: A Passion for Perfection," conservation scientists at the museum x-rayed three of the artist's beeswax statues in an attempt to better understand their construction. What they uncovered is that Degas bulked up the inside of these pieces with ordinary objects from around his home—including something any good artist has plenty of: wine corks.

Dea Picture Library / Getty Images

"The use of ordinary shop-bought armatures, wine bottle cork and old floorboards, confirm Degas to have been a highly unorthodox sculptor who used unconventional working practices, in terms of materials and technique, which resulted in the frequent loss of his wax sculpture," a spokesperson for the Fitzwilliam Museum said according to the BBC.

The Dancer with a Tambourine, one of the three beeswax statues examined by the museum, reportedly used wine bottle corks in the head, chest and abdomen to fill out the figure which is just under a foot tall. Though Degas has come to be known for his bronze sculptures, during his lifetime, the artist instead worked in wax, often supplemented with other materials. It wasn't until after his death that these works were recast in bronze.

"Degas defied tradition as well as contemporary practice to resist having his sculpture cast in bronze," said Victoria Avery, keeper of applied arts at the Fitzwilliam Museum. "It is therefore deeply ironic that Degas's fragile and deliberately ephemeral, one-of-a-kind sculptures are now best known from their durable bronze serial casts, displayed in public and private collections across the globe." Wine corks not included.

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