Upon Degas's death in 1917, more than 150 figurative sculptures were found in his studio. Most were made of fragile wax, clay, and plastiline (a wax- and oil-based modeling material). Many had deteriorated. Only a few were preserved in copies that had been cast from them in plaster. Except for the wax Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer (Washington: NGA) none of these sculptures had been publicly exhibited during the artist’s lifetime.
Although Degas had not favored reproducing his sculptures in more permanent materials, his heirs authorized that copies be cast in bronze in order to preserve the compositions and to sell them as finished works. Paul-Albert Bartholomé, a sculptor and Degas's longtime friend, prepared 72 of the figures for casting, a process executed by the distinguished Paris foundry A.-A. Hébrard et Cie. The quality of the Degas bronzes was tightly controlled and their edition was limited. Only twenty-two editions of the series of 72 figures were cast. Each bronze within the series was assigned a number from one to seventy-two. The first twenty editions were assigned a letter from A-T. In most cases these numbers and letters were incised on the individual bronzes.
The series of 72 bronzes was completed before May 1921 when it was exhibited in Paris. Edition A, comprising the first and best casts of the series, was reserved for the important Impressionist collector Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer. She later acquired the first bronze cast of the Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer (lettered A, but not numbered), which had been omitted from the initial series. In 1929 Mrs. Havemeyer bequeathed Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer and 70 of the 72 Edition A Degas bronzes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Signature: On top of base: Degas
Marking: On top of base: CIRE/ PERDUE/ A A HEBRARD/ 39/A (founder's mark and serial letter)
A.-A. Hébrard et Cie (in 1920; sold to Havemeyer) ; Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer , New York (1920–29; bequeathed to MMA)