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Valsuani Foundry, Known for Controversial ‘Authentic Copies’ of Degas Works, Ordered to Close to Pay Off Debts

Edgar Degas, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1879–81.NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON, D.C., COLLECTION OF MR. AND MRS. PAUL MELLON

Edgar Degas, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1879–81.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON, D.C., COLLECTION OF MR. AND MRS. PAUL MELLON

Valsuani, which, over the past three decades, has come under fire for making plaster casts of Edgar Degas’s sculptures, has been ordered to close by a French judge, the New York Times reports. The decision calls on the firm to liquidate its holdings to pay creditors.

In the late ’70s Valsuani succeeded Hébrard as the authorized producer of bronzes of Degas’s sculptures. The French Impressionist had been vocal during his life about how much he disliked bronze reproductions, but this did not bother his family, who, after his death, planned to make 1,628 bronzes. In 1981 Leonardo Benatov acquired the rights to Valsuani and claimed to have discovered 74 plaster sculptures.

The plaster sculptures have become the source of controversy for Degas scholars, most of whom doubt their authenticity. “There is no historical evidence to support the assertion that any of the Valsuani plasters were made during Degas’s lifetime,” Patricia Failing, who has written for these pages about Degas’s work, told ARTnews in 2013.

The bronze casts Benatov made have since been exhibited in museums around the world and have become valuable—Benatov sold them in 1997 for $60,000 each, and their value has only gone up. The casts were legal under French law, but scholars quickly began to have their doubts. Nevertheless, Benatov insisted he had done nothing wrong. “No one to my knowledge has questioned the authenticity of the bronzes, and I do not know of any reason why anyone would,” he wrote in an email to ARTnews in 2010.

Although Valsuani will now cease business, questions about the works’ authenticity remain. As Kirk Varnedoe, the former chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, once observed, “Degas’s work falls through some crevices in period sculpture, and I think it will be a puzzle for a long time.”

Head over to the New York Times for a full report on the closure of the Valsuani foundry.

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