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However, a new cast, made in the 1990s off a plaster discovered in a French foundry, is now believed by some to represent the Petite Danseuse as it was in 1881 at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in Paris, making the other cast a reworking.

Guy Stair Sainty is now among those who are convinced the later work reflects the original.

In fact, he tells ATG, “I have no doubt”. And he’s set to put his money – that is to say, his gallery – where his mouth is soon with the opening of an exhibition at his Stair Sainty gallery in Dover Street featuring the historically contested cast.

Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen: A Tale of Two Casts will run from April 27-May 26. It is the first time this particular version of the bronze has been offered by a member of the London trade.

For Stair Sainty, as for many who have taken an interest, the decisive evidence in favour of the ‘other’ statue is presented in a 2016 book on the subject by art historian Gregory Hedberg.

The 312-page volume presents evidence from scientific studies, artistic analysis and first-hand accounts to say that the initially accepted cast is in fact based on a 1903 reworking.

h3Different casts

The argument is that Degas made changes to the wax figure when selling it to a client and that, following the artist’s death, the Hébrard foundry produced only the revised version.

After Hébrard went out of business, Valsuani took over the reproductions and it was there the different, possibly original, plaster cast was found.

“I’ve been aware of the debate for about 15 years,” Stair Sainty says. “But I had been thinking about it and I wanted to read everything about it. I didn’t want to take a risk on such a controversial matter unless I was 100% sure and I felt happy taking the risk.”

Stair Sainty will exhibit two of the Valsuani statues during the exhibition and highlight the research done on the piece.

In the past, Valsuani bronzes have sold for £2m, while the traditional Hébrard versions have sold for much more – one example took £15.8m in 2015 at Sotheby’s London. However, if and when the contention that the Valsuani cast is the original becomes widely accepted, its price will rise. So Stair Sainty is keeping ahead of the game, offering the two pieces for £3m each.

“It’s a beautiful sculpture. It’s got a lovely patina and what I particularly love about this sculpture is that we see a lot more clearly what this young girl was like,” says Stair Sainty.

“The startling differences between the bronzes cast from wax found in Degas’ studio and the works we will show are a revelation.”