One of the stars of the Royal Academy of Arts’s forthcoming Degas show (“Degas at the Ballet”, 17 September-11 December) will be the bronze Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Lent by the Tate, it has been in the museum’s collection since 1952. Buying the Little Dancer was opposed, however, by three of the London museum’s trustees. Leading British artists Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland and John Piper were concerned that the museum was getting value for its money.
The Tate bought the Little Dancer (1881, cast 1922) for £9,000 from London’s Marlborough Fine Art. The National Art Collections Fund (now Art Fund) contributed £6,000. A rival dealer, New York-based Curt Valentin, told Moore that the £9,000 price demanded by Marlborough was too high. Valentin was then Moore’s own dealer.
The Treasury took up the complaint and John Rothenstein, the director of the Tate, responded on 7 October 1952. Papers in the Tate archive show that the three artist-trustees had “expressed disquiet with the price paid”, suggesting it should be around £4,500. Rothenstein, in his memoirs, later revealed that privately others were accusing him of having “pocketed a large commission”, a charge he vehemently and successfully denied.