Disputed bronzes cast from plasters attributed to Degas on show in Tel Aviv

Although the plaster's provenance and the project's credibility are under scrutiny, a New York dealer has initiated an exhibition at the Museum of Art


The controversial new Degas bronze castings, made from a cache of previously unknown plasters, have gone on show at Tel Aviv’s Museum of Art. Although questions have been raised about their authenticity, the exhibition was blessed by the French ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot. Writing in the catalogue, he describes the show as “exceptional”, since it represents the “complete collection” of the artist’s sculptures.

Despite ambassadorial support, there is silence from French national museums, such as the Musée d’Orsay, as well as from established Degas sculpture scholars. All declined to respond to The Art Newspaper’s request for their views, except for one expert, who requested anonymity and told us that the plasters were made “post 1945”.

Walter Maibaum, head of the New York-based Degas Sculpture Project Ltd, which is arranging the bronze castings, says he would welcome “an informed debate”. Some specialists are prohibited by their employers from commenting and others are worried about legal issues, but it is also likely that they do not all agree on the complex issues raised by the discovery (The Art Newspaper, March 2010, p29).

The plasters (said to be made from Degas’s wax originals) were found several years ago at the Valsuani foundry, outside Paris. The main group of 73 plasters is being used to cast 29 sets of bronzes, eight of which are reported as sold (the total value of the 29 sets is said to be more than $500m).

The Tel Aviv exhibition was first proposed by New York dealer Alex Rosenberg, a supporter of the museum. The show is sponsored by the M.T. Abraham Center for the Visual Arts, set up by the family of M.T. Abraham, a Yemen-born lawyer who died in 1999. It owns a full set of the 73 bronzes, which will be lent to the National Gallery in Sofia (opening 2 September) and the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki (5 November).

Along with Tel Aviv, another set of bronzes is on show at the Herakleidon Museum in Athens (its run has been extended to 14 August). A further set is owned by Yank Barry, a colourful Canadian rock star-turned-businessman, and this will be shown in November 2011 at the New Orleans Museum of Art, which then plans to organise a US tour.

The main owners of the recently discovered plasters are New York collectors Paul and Melinda Sullivan. They recently purchased 49 of the 73 plasters, and also have one full set of the bronzes. They told us their long-term plan is to “consider gifting some of the plasters to the various institutions that have the corresponding wax versions of Degas’s sculptures in their collections”: the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Musée d’Orsay and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

During the past few weeks there has been an important change in claims about the plasters. Until now, the Degas Sculpture Project has followed the dating proposed by Gregory Hedberg, a New York art historian and dealer, who concluded they were made during the lifetime of the artist.

Last month Maibaum told us that, having re-examined all the evidence, he now believes it “highly probable” that they were done slightly later, between Degas’s death in 1917 and the casting of the posthumous bronzes by the Hébrard foundry in 1919 (with the exception of The Little Dancer, which was made into a plaster during the artist’s lifetime).

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Disputed Degas bronzes on show in Tel Aviv'