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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Sotheby's expects a rare sculpture of a young ballet dancer by French impressionist Edgar Degas to fetch up to 12 million pounds ($17.5 million) when it goes under the hammer in London next month.
"Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans" is one of only a handful of bronze casts by the artist remaining in private hands, and the auctioneer called it a "groundbreaking sculpture from the Impressionist period."
The figure of a girl, dated 1879-81, was originally made in wax using a wire structure for the body. Degas dressed the figure in real silk, tulle and gauze and a wig.
The sculpture, the only one to be exhibited during the artist's lifetime, was found in Degas' studio after his death in 1917 and cast in bronze from 1922.
Ballet dancers were a major inspiration for Degas, and a pastel and gouache representation sold for $37 million at Sotheby's in New York in November, a record for the artist.
That record was set despite a significant fall in high-end art prices at the end of last year as financial turmoil and the threat of recession began to hit the rich and super-rich who had bankrolled the booming sector.
The sculpture is being offered by John Madejski, a British millionaire who is chairman of Reading soccer club. It will be offered at Sotheby's London sale of impressionist and modern art on February 3.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato