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It’s tricky business casting The Painted Girls, which tells the story of the real life model—Marie van Goethem—for Edgar Degas’s famous sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. As per the BBC documentary Private Life of a Masterpiece: Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, when Degas unveiled the artwork back in 1881, it was to reveal something very strange by the standards of the day—a highly realistic wax sculpture of a ballet girl dressed in a fabric tutu, slippers and bodice and wearing a wig of real hair. The public took one look and were horrified. They didn't see a young girl in her ballet clothes. They saw a whore and linked the little dancer with a life of corruption and young girls for sale. She was called a “flower of the gutter.” They said her face was “imprinted with the detestable promise of every vice.” Such notions were underpinned by a long history of often less than noble liaisons between the wealthy season ticket holders to the ballet and the young ballet girls.Learn more about the book and author at Cathy Marie Buchanan's website.
Through Marie’s real life older sister Antoinette, The Painted Girls also tells the story of a teenage boy—Émile Abadie—who Degas drew on trial in the criminal court for a grisly murder. Degas titled the work Criminal Physiognomies, in keeping with prevailing “scientific” ideas about innate criminality and certain facial features—a forward thrusting jaw, a low forehead—that marked a person as having a tendency toward crime. In 1881 he exhibited the portrait alongside Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.
Are there teenage starlets out there bearing the “criminal physiognomies” Degas sought to capture in both artworks? I’m not so sure, but here’s my cast:
Marie van Goethem (14) – Elle Fanning, who is not a traditional beauty and who studies ballet
Antoinette van Goethem (18) – Jennifer...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Painted Girls.
My Book, The Movie: The Painted Girls.