Edgar Degas’ sculpture “Little Dancer” took a hit from climate change activists at the National Gallery of Art in D.C. last Thursday. An argument can be made that the sculpture warranted a dressing down, but not for the reason given.

The Washington Post quotes protester Joanna Smith who helped smear the plexiglass case protecting the sculpture with black and red paint: “We need our leaders to take serious action, to tell us the truth about what’s happening with the climate.”

Vandalizing a sculpture of a young ballerina to save the planet doesn’t make sense.

There’s no connection between one and the other. Even so, there’s plenty of reason to rage against this display.

He didn’t do it

For one thing, Degas didn’t make the sculpture that the National Gallery displays. Made of bronze, it was cast after the artist died. Encasing this work as if it were a precious one-of-a-kind objet d’art seems like a bad joke played on the public.

A 1995 College Art Association report titled “Degas Bronzes?” contended that the bronze work isn’t even a direct reproduction of the original. A plaster mold of the original was used for the bronzes, which would make it a reproduction of a reproduction.

The process of casting the figure began after Degas’ death when his dealer, Durand-Ruel, found 150 wax figures in the artist's studio and made a deal with Degas' brother and sister to cast 74 of them in bronze in an edition of 22.

How much does this matter? Imagine if the Louvre’s “Mona Lisa,” which is held in anti-reflective, climate-controlled, bulletproof glass case, was just a photocopy of the original. You might feel like throwing paint at it, wouldn’t you?

Likely, Degas would have joined the paint-throwing party. He didn’t like bronze. He thought the metal material was too permanent and ill-suited to the way he worked, which involved constant change and revision.

The 19th-century art critic Francois Thiebault-Sisson recalled a conversation with the artist in his book “Degas Sculpture.”

Wishful thinking

The artist told the critic that he modeled the waxworks merely as exercises for his paintings: "Since no one will ever see these efforts, no one should think of speaking about them, After my death, all that will fall apart by itself."

But, wait.

The National Gallery notes on its website that it has "the largest and most important collection of Degas’ surviving original sculpture in the world." Why, then, display some second generation copy when you’re sitting on a trove of the real thing?

Robert W. Torchia, an art professor at the University of North Florida has also questioned the authenticity of the bronze, saying: "Museums should just come out and say what's true. Then it'd be a non-story. Evasive posturing is unnecessary."

Such posturing could be seen in a New York Post account of the attack on the bronze work in the words of the National Gallery director Kaywin Feldman: “We unequivocally denounce this physical attack on one of our works of art and will continue to share information as it becomes available.”

How about “unequivocally” sharing information about the fact that the vandalized Degas isn’t a Degas?