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Taking Degas' horse home


Degas' horse
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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I was not in London, and that went on sale at Sotheby’s. It looked like a reasonable price, and Tom Stoppard’s wife at that time, Miriam Stoppard, used to bid for me here in London, when I was not here. She enjoyed that very much, and did it with real élan, but therefore the result is that on the... auction record it was bought by her, you know, then on... my behalf, so the records indicated that it was bought by Miriam... Miriam Stoppard. And then I said, keep it until I come to London. I was travelling a fair amount, I was not at that time living here, and again it was one of these things, you know, it's a horse. So it’s a bronze horse, it’s this size and it fits into an overnight bag, and again I was going to carry it in my overnight bag. It was a tricky thing about customs, because I wanted to eliminate the red tape with customs agents. I don’t mean customs inspectors, but then you need brokers, and stuff like this. Now, a sculpture like this is, of course tax deductible, this is a work of art, but the interesting part of the American rules, and I knew them perfectly well, is that only the first ten casts of a sculpture are tax deductible. A very unusual... not tax deductible, I mean not subject to duty, and the duty is significant, it’s something... I forgot... several per cent of the value of the sculpture, and when you’re talking about a Degas you’re talking about thousands of dollars, of course, even at that time. So the first ten are deductible, they are... in the case of Giacometti there’s no problem, he’s never done ten casts, he does five or six, and the same thing is true with most of Henry Moore, but for instance, it turns out to be the case with Degas, who always did 23 casts, and so I never knew that it means that if you have the 11th cast, you know, remember they’re numbered, so if you have the 11th cast you pay thousands of dollars of duty, and if you have the 10th cast you pay zero, which is of course ridiculous, because the value, if you bought them, they don’t charge you any more or less for the 11th or 10h cast, or the 22nd cast. But in addition, Degas does not number them, but letter them, so instead of one, two, three, four, five, it says, A, B, C, D, E, F, until you get to whatever it is, the 24rd letter, or 21st letter, because then another one is for the foundry, and that has, whatever the label is, fondue, or something like that, but then... and there... there’s one for the family, and that’s called... that’s labelled HER, for the heirs. That was my cast.

So now you could make an argument. Is that the last one or the first one? My argument would be, the family comes first, and then comes everything else. Someone else could say, well, first they go from A to S, or T, and then comes finally the... the riffraff. Well anyway, later I was preparing myself for this, but just carried it with me, and I said, I’m not even going to mention it.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Sotheby’s, Miriam Stoppard, Henry Moore, Edgar Degas

Duration: 3 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008