Isadora Duncan’s Dancing Girls

Isadora Duncan’s story is one of both resounding success and incomprehensible tragedy.  When Isadora—the last of four children—was a baby her family fell into financial and social ruin; a couple years later her parents would be divorced.  As Isadora grew she found herself drawn to dance and increasingly frustrated with the restrictive atmosphere of school (not unlike author Madeleine L’Engle, who, ironically, would be enrolled, along with her sister, in one of Duncan’s dance classes.)

As a young woman Duncan found herself in Europe, where she developed a new form of dance that stressed freedom of movement and rejection of the highly structured stances and moves of ballet, a style she found unnatural. In a sense she was the kinetic embodiment of art nouveau, a style of art that had peaked right around the time she was becoming prominent in the dance scene. While her style was quite successful in one sense, it was not without controversy, not merely because of its rejection of tradition but also because Duncan often appeared in revealing translucent clothes or, on at least one occasion, nothing at all. In puritanical America her free-form style was initially lambasted, though methinks the rejection had less to do with her improvisational technique than with her skimpy outfits and sensuous movements. Europeans, however, quickly embraced her in a big way and even sent their young daughters to study underneath her (as did Americans eventually.)

Photographer Unknown - Isadora Duncan, Dancer

Photographer Unknown – Isadora Duncan, Dancer

Duncan was unashamed of her sexuality and believed that it was healthy to operate with both mind and body unencumbered, a philosophy she passed on to her young students.  This brazenly sensual style, especially when it involved young girls, was likely destined to bring about a conflict with authorities at some point, and so it did.  Helen Bailey’s article at the (now defunct) Gymnosophy website recounts just such a run-in:

“In 1904, Isadora Duncan startled the world with her innovations in the Dance. She opened a school, and there taught her doctrines of absolute freedom of mind and body. The dance audience of her time reacted in no uncertain manner. She was greeted with an extreme rebuff.

“However, after some training, the children of her school performed. As the curtain rose, the police stormed the doors of the auditorium, and attempted to stop the performance on the grounds that the costumes were indecent. They maintained that they displayed, too brazenly, the contours of the children’s growing shapely bodies. It was only because of the vigorous intervention of friends and followers, that the police finally withdrew, and permitted the performance to go on.

“Had it not been for the aid of these friends, motivated by their firm belief in her sincerity of purpose, and fine aesthetic sense, this very beautiful thought, which she later used in the development of the Dance Art, would have been stifled, and no doubt remained dormant for many years.

“Saved from the withering hand of police censorship, Isadora Duncan’s idea was transferred to thousands of children, and attracted a wide audience, who came to believe in it as earnestly as she.”

What strikes me most about this description is how closely it mirrors the modern debate over the sexualization of children.  And yet Duncan’s form of dance eventually went mainstream and attracted thousands of students, children and adults alike.  Which goes to show that this debate is neither a new thing nor that society will crumble if it adopts such openness with kids.  What is new, however, is the degree of success the campaign to repress the sensual and corporeal spirit of youth (and by extension the Sexual Revolution, which really started with youths after all) has had over the last thirty years.

Photographer Unknown - Duncan with her students at Le Theatre (1909)

Photographer Unknown – Duncan with her students at Le Theatre (1909)

Paul Berger - Isadora Duncan with children at Grunewald school (1908) (1)

Paul Berger – Isadora Duncan with children at Grunewald school (1908) (1)

And here’s a larger view of the same image–note the pose of the girl in front, on the floor:

Paul Berger - Isadora Duncan with children at Grunewald school (1908) (2)

Paul Berger – Isadora Duncan with children at Grunewald school (1908) (2)

Paul Berger - Isadora Duncan with her pupils, Paris, France

Paul Berger – Isadora Duncan with her pupils, Paris, France

Duncan even had a school in Moscow, Russia, though it was mostly taught by Duncan’s former student Irma Erich-Grimme (or Irma Duncan as she was known—Irma, one of the six original Isadorables—took on Duncan’s surname as part of their professional career, as did all of the Isadorables.)

Photographer Unknown - Isadora Duncan's Moscow studio

Photographer Unknown – Isadora Duncan’s Moscow studio

The Isadorables were of the Grunewald school, the most successful of Duncan’s three Old World schools. Duncan, coming from a poor background, had a soft spot for girls in a similar predicament and thus her school took in primarily destitute girls. They lived at the school for part of the year and the curriculum included more than just dance. The girls started young. Erica Lohmann, for example, the youngest of the six Isadorables, was only four when she started at Grunewald.

Photographer Unknown - The Isadorables

Photographer Unknown – The Isadorables

Here are Irma Erich-Grimme (born in 1897), Anna Denzler (born in 1894, the oldest of the Isadorables), and Erica Lohmann (born in 1901–she would be 16 here):

Photographer Unknown - The Isadorables - Irma, Anna and Erica (1917)

Photographer Unknown – The Isadorables – Irma, Anna and Erica (1917)

Duncan bore three children, a daughter, Deirdre, and two sons, Patrick and an unnamed boy who died soon after being born, all from different fathers. Among the great tragedies of Duncan’s life was the deaths of her two oldest children, who both perished when the automobile they were sitting in rolled into the Seine and drowned them. They were 7 and 3 respectively when they died. The children had been raised with the same Bohemian openness with which Duncan treated her dance students. These photos were taken not long before the horrific accident:

Paul Berger - Isadora Duncan with Deirdre and Patrick (1913)

Paul Berger – Isadora Duncan with Deirdre and Patrick (1913)

Paul Berger - Isadora Duncan's children, Deidre and Patrick (1913)

Paul Berger – Isadora Duncan’s children, Deidre and Patrick (1913)

Ironically, Duncan would herself eventually expire in an automobile accident when her scarf caught up in the spokes of the car’s wheel and slung her out to the pavement.  She went out as she had lived her life: in a very dramatic way.

Duncan’s legacy has endured to this day, and there are still schools dedicated to teaching her highly organic mode of dance.  These include the Isadora Duncan International Institute and the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation, both in New York.

Finally, I will leave you with a beautiful video clip that may perhaps feature the largest number of young girls you will ever see in a single work of art, making it more than apropos for my blog. This is from Ken Russell’s 1966 made-for-BBC film, Isadora, the Biggest Dancer in the World: here is Isadora Duncan (played by Vivian Pickles) running joyously through a field with hundreds of children to the opening strains of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy.’ There’s something quite heavenly about this scene, and that, ladies and gents, is as sweet and beautiful as life gets.

Wikipedia: Isadora Duncan

Wikipedia: Ken Russell

William Zorach

William Zorach was a Lithuanian-born Jewish painter and sculptor who embraced modernism early.  When he migrated to America with his family, he helped introduce the style of the European avant-garde to the United States.  His wife Marguerite was also an artist.  Zorach began his art career focused on painting but eventually sculpture became his art form of choice, with his work often rendered in a sleek art deco style, albeit with more rounded forms than is generally the case with art deco.  One of his frequent subjects was his daughter Dahlov, who, like the children of many creative couples, ultimately became an artist herself.  (Note: There’s a lovely page devoted to her called The World of Dahlov Ipcar, which I highly recommend. Not only does it display some of her beautifully stylized paintings, it has some additional information on her father and mother, as well as a short bio of Dahlov herself.)

Much of Zorach’s work was allegorical, as with the following piece, called Mother and Child (Dike and Eirene).  Dike and Eirene were Greek goddesses and, according to the common thread of mythology, were not mother and daughter but rather two of the sisters called the Horae (Hours), and represented justice and peace respectively. Ergo, the point of this work is that peace is born of justice.

william-zorach-mother-and-child-dike-and-eirene-1918-1

William Zorach – Mother and Child (Dike and Eirene) (1918) (1)

William Zorach - Mother and Child (Dike and Eirene) (1918) (2)

William Zorach – Mother and Child (Dike and Eirene) (1918) (2)

Here’s another allegorical piece.  This one can be found hanging on the outer wall of the Weiner Library of the Teaneck-Hackensack branch of Farleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.  Zorach laid out its symbolism pretty clearly:

“The Indians that possessed this land … left us a rich heritage — We are all sun worshippers, loving life and the great forces of creation, renewed each day and yet never the same.” The flags represent all the flags that “have flown over this country until we were all united under one flag.” The woman represents America itself, beautiful and full of fertile promise. And the man and child represent “the spirit of enterprise and education, leading the new generation to carry on the work of today into the new visions of tomorrow — the new age flowing into life.”

Apparently this sculpture was intended for The Bank of the Southwest in Houston, Texas but they rejected it, deeming it too modern for their taste.  Heh, idiots.

William Zorach - Epic of America (1)

William Zorach – Epic of America (1)

William Zorach - Epic of America (2)

William Zorach – Epic of America (2)

William Zorach - Epic of America (3)

William Zorach – Epic of America (3)

The rest of these images are devoted to three sculptures and a drawing inspired by Dahlov. Zorach adored his children, particularly Dahlov, who showed an early affinity and talent for art, such that her father saved the bulk of her artistic output as she was growing up. In my experience most parents save the cookie-cutter crafts their children bring home from school and throw out many of the actual sketches and such that kids make because they seem to be badly done. I have winced at seeing parents gather up projects their kids were working on earlier and toss them in the trash. Now, I know parents cannot possibly save everything their kids make, but they don’t realize that they may be discouraging an artist in the making by reducing their art to garbage. Kids, whilst generally lacking the skills of an adult, nevertheless tend to create art more intuitively than adults. For a good analysis of the early creative process, I recommend reading Viktor Lowenfeld’s Creative and Mental Growth.

William Zorach - Innocence (Figure of Girl - Dahlov) (1928) (1)

William Zorach – Innocence (Figure of Girl – Dahlov) (1928) (1)

William Zorach - Innocence (Figure of Girl - Dahlov) (1928) (2)

William Zorach – Innocence (Figure of Girl – Dahlov) (1928) (2)

William Zorach - Innocence (Figure of Girl - Dahlov) (1928) (3)

William Zorach – Innocence (Figure of Girl – Dahlov) (1928) (3)

William Zorach - Innocence (Figure of Girl - Dahlov) (1928) (4)

William Zorach – Innocence (Figure of Girl – Dahlov) (1928) (4)

William Zorach - Figure of a Child (Dahlov) (1921) (1)

William Zorach – Figure of a Child (Dahlov) (1921) (1)

William Zorach - Figure of a Child (Dahlov) (1921) (2)

William Zorach – Figure of a Child (Dahlov) (1921) (2)

William Zorach - Figure of a Child (Dahlov) (1921) (3)

William Zorach – Figure of a Child (Dahlov) (1921) (3)

William Zorach - Figure of a Child (Dahlov) (1921) (4)

William Zorach – Figure of a Child (Dahlov) (1921) (4)

William Zorach - Affection (1933) (1)

William Zorach – Affection (1933) (1)

William Zorach - Affection (1933) (2)

William Zorach – Affection (1933) (2)

William Zorach - Affection (1933) (3)

William Zorach – Affection (1933) (3)

William Zorach - Affection (1933) (4)

William Zorach – Affection (1933) (4)

William Zorach - Affection (1933) (5)

William Zorach – Affection (1933) (5)

William Zorach - Dahlov with Cat (1920)

William Zorach – Dahlov with Cat (1920)

Wikipedia: William Zorach

Zinaida Serebriakova

Zinaida Serebriakova is a fascinating figure.  A beauty in her own right, she could’ve modeled for other painters had she chosen to do so, but instead she entered art school and studied beneath Ilya Repin, one of Russia’s most renowned painters and sculptors, becoming one of the first female painters in Russia to achieve national (and ultimately international) acclaim.  As with many female painters of the period, her work often focused on children and family life, particularly her own.  Below you can see a self-portrait of Serebriakova, painted when she was around 25.

zinaida-serebriakova-self-portrait-at-the-dressing-table-1909

Zinaida Serebriakova – Self-Portrait: At the Dressing Table (1909)

Zinaida Serebriakova - In the Nursery (1913)

Zinaida Serebriakova – In the Nursery (1913)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Breakfast (1914)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Breakfast (1914)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Reading Girl (1917)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Reading Girl (1917)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Tata and Katia in the Mirror (1917)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Tata and Katia in the Mirror (1917)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Self-Portrait with Daughters (1918)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Self-Portrait with Daughters (1918)

Zinaida Serebriakova - On the Terrace in Kharkov (1919)

Zinaida Serebriakova – On the Terrace in Kharkov (1919)

Zinaida Serebriakova - House of Cards (1919)

Zinaida Serebriakova – House of Cards (1919)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Katyusha (1920s)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Katyusha (1920s)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Girl with a Doll (1921)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Girl with a Doll (1921)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Tata in Harlequin Costume (1921)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Tata in Harlequin Costume (1921)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Nude Girl (1922)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Nude Girl (1922)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Girls at the Piano (1922)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Girls at the Piano (1922)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Katya in Blue Dress by Christmas Tree (1922)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Katya in Blue Dress by Christmas Tree (1922)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Katya at the Kitchen Table (1923)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Katya at the Kitchen Table (1923)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Katya in the Kitchen (1923)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Katya in the Kitchen (1923)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Katya (1923)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Katya (1923)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Katya and Still-Life (1923)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Katya and Still-Life (1923)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Katyusha on a Blanket (1923) (1)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Katyusha on a Blanket (1923) (1)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Katyusha on a Blanket (1923) (2)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Katyusha on a Blanket (1923) (2)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Tata with Vegetables (1923)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Tata with Vegetables (1923)

Zinaida Serebriakova - Tata in Dance Costume (1924)

Zinaida Serebriakova – Tata in Dance Costume (1924)

Wikipedia: Zinaida Serebriakova

Tatiana Pribylovskaya

This is an illustration from a book written by Astrid Lindgren, who is best known for her Pippi Longstocking books. Lindgren was something of a phenomenon in Europe from the 1940s all the way through the 1990s, so popular that many films have been made from her books, including at least two based on her Madicken character. If you ever get a chance to see Du är inte klok, Madicken, check it out. It’s a film that was made in 1979 and was intended for families yet would likely be considered child pornography by many filmgoers today, a sad note on how absurd and stupid the moral panic over child nudity has become.  This illustration is from the series The Six Bullerby Children (or, as it is known in the US, The Children of Noisy Village.) There’s an excellent film of the same name that was directed by Lasse Hallström, who also directed one of my all time favorite films, My Life as a Dog.

tatiana-pribylovskaya-fro

Tatiana Pribylovskaya – Illustration from ‘Barnens dag i Bullerbyn’ (Astrid Lindgren) (1975)

Oslo Rådhus

The next place we’re visiting in our virtual tour is Oslo, Norway’s Rådhus (City Hall), the construction of which was begun in the 1930s but had to be postponed for several years due to World War II. Thus, the building was completed and opened for business in 1950. It features a number of artworks both on the inside and on the outside.  We’ll start inside, in the Rådhus lobby, on the walls of which are at least three very large murals, though only one of these features young girls.  First, here is a large-scale view of the lobby.  On the back wall can be seen the mural we are to examine, painted by Willi Midelfart.

willi-midelfart-mural-oslo-city-hall-1950-5

Oslo Rådhus lobby

Here’s a full view of the mural. As you can see, it is a classical-style scene of rural families lounging and playing outdoors, or what is commonly called an idyll in the art world. Frequently the figures in these scenes are nude, as is the case here.  The mural has some nice Fauvist color values.

Willi Midelfart - Mural, Oslo Rådhus (1950) (1)

Willi Midelfart – Mural, Oslo Rådhus (1950) (1)

Willi Midelfart - Mural, Oslo Rådhus (1950) (2)

Willi Midelfart – Mural, Oslo Rådhus (1950) (2)

Willi Midelfart - Mural, Oslo Rådhus (1950) (3)

Willi Midelfart – Mural, Oslo Rådhus (1950) (3)

I love that a mural in a government building not only has naked kids in it, but that one of those kids is actually urinating:

Willi Midelfart - Mural, Oslo Rådhus (1950) (4)

Willi Midelfart – Mural, Oslo Rådhus (1950) (4)

Willi Midelfart - Mural, Oslo Rådhus (1950) (5)

Willi Midelfart – Mural, Oslo Rådhus (1950) (5)

And now we move on to the exterior of the building, onto the city hall grounds (Rådhusplassen), where, among the sculptural work, is Per Hurum’s “Mor og barn” (“Mother and Children”).  It can be seen below at about the middle of the photo.  The building behind it is, of course, the  Rådhus itself.  It’s builders struck a nice balance between the modern solidly geometric architecture of the structure and the softer and more traditional bits of ornamentation.

Per Hurum - Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (1)

Per Hurum – Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (1)

Per Hurum - Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (2)

Per Hurum – Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (2)

Here we can see it from the other side, facing the waterfront:

Per Hurum - Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (3)

Per Hurum – Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (3)

Per Hurum - Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (4)

Per Hurum – Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (4)

Per Hurum - Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (5)

Per Hurum – Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (5)

Per Hurum - Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (6)

Per Hurum – Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (6)

Per Hurum - Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (7)

Per Hurum – Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (7)

 Per Hurum - Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (8)


Per Hurum – Mor og barn (Rådhusplassen, Oslo, Norway) (8)

Comments:

From Rev. Benjamin M. Root IV on January 22, 2012
Why are cultures from the coldest climates often the most comfortable with nudism/naturalism? Socio-politically progressive too.

Shooting photos of European outdoor sculpture is quite frustrating (in my experience), the mind’s eye can see the beauty and the shape. But the camera often just captures dark bronze blobs with streaks of pigeon poop and water stains.

From pipstarr72 on January 24, 2012
I assume you mean Western cultures with the coldest climates seem to be the most comfortable with nudism and naturism. Remember, there are still plenty of tribal cultures where nudity is common. That does appear to be true in general, although it’s not universal (Canada is a pretty cold climate and I don’t think they are particularly more inclined towards naturism than the United States is.) But I don’t know; that’s a good question.

A Word About SOPA

Okay, I don’t ordinarily get involved in political issues here that fall outside the basic scope of this blog, but, in a way, this isn’t an entirely unrelated issue.  This is a word about SOPA. If you don’t know what SOPA is, I suggest you educate yourself about it, because if this bill passes it will change the internet in dramatic ways, few of them good for the end user.

In a nutshell, what this law will mean is that the US government will gain unprecedented powers in controlling the internet all over the world, because they will be able to block out any websites for American users that are deemed to be in violation of its piracy legislation, without so much as an arrest or trial for any accused wrongdoers. Think about that for a minute. If you’re not an American, that should piss you off immediately. Now that most of the world understands what this means for them, let’s look at how it affects Americans. The answer is, you will fare no better, and in some ways a good deal worse. The US government will reserve the right to essentially blacklist and censor any website—and thereby any individual, company or agency—it deems to be violating American copyright infringement/piracy laws (which, I might add, are defined quite broadly here), whether from foreign or domestic sources. It also puts the onus on internet providers to keep tabs on its users–that’s YOU, dear reader–to make sure the rules are being adhered to. The government therefore not only allows itself and its agents here broad powers to punish without having to go to trial to prove its case, it pretty much demands that many unwilling parties be complicit in this insane mockery of justice.

Big Brother, here we come . . .

So, yeah. We stand to lose a lot here. The government thought they could sneak this past us before the slumbering beast woke up enough to stand against it prior to its passing. It looks like they were dead wrong. Make your voice heard. This is not merely about the government protecting intellectual property, as they claim; this is about the government controlling what YOU have access to on the information superhighway. If that doesn’t frighten and anger you, you aren’t paying attention. So go out there and shout it in the streets, write or call your congressmen and congresswomen, fill your blogs with angry rants. We cannot stand for this! The United States government has taken too much from us already. It’s time we all finally joined together as one voice and said, “No! Not this time!”

Comments:

From Daniel on January 19, 2012
This sounds just like the internet filtering bill in Australia, which has ominously dropped from the radar, probably to be revived after the next election. The only difference is that the Americans use piracy as the political excuse for gaining such a tool of control, while Australia invokes the protection of children.

From pipstarr72 on January 19, 2012
These guys will use whatever they can to sell their ultimate goal of controlling the Internet right down to the last wire. “Think of the children!” Yeah, they’ve proposed that particular thought-terminating cliche here too a few times, but I think they realize people are starting to get wise to that nonsense. They used the piracy thing I think because it’s not something that most people tend to think much about and they thought they could float that past the public without anyone really noticing. They would’ve succeeded too if not for the fact that people who actually have a large stake in Internet-focused media (e.g. the people at Google, Wikipedia, etc.) have lawyers and experts that pay attention to this stuff, and they started raising red flags via their media to get the message out. It reminds me a bit of how William Randolph Hearst used his media as a weapon against the burgeoning hemp industry back in the 1930s, which was set to replace lumber as a cheaper and more renewable source of paper (Hearst had a lot of money sunk into lumber and would’ve lost a lot of his investment if we had switched to hemp to make paper.) Of course, Hearst was a grade-A asshat and his use of his own media was completely selfish. In this case, however, the internet media—while they certainly stand to benefit from SOPA and PIPA not passing—are actually using their outlets for the greater good.

Claire Weiss

I assume you know the old saying, “Don’t cry over spilt milk,” eh? Claire Weiss was born in 1906 and designed many figurines for Bing & Grøndahl, a Danish porcelain maker, but that’s about all I could manage to dig up on her.

claire-weiss-spilt-milk

Claire Weiss – Spilt Milk

Comments:

From Rev. Benjamin M. Root IV on January 17, 2012
Check out the Royal Copenhagen at http://www.figurin.se/xdenmark.html

I wish I knew the story on this stuff. It’s quite expensive.

From pipstarr72 on January 17, 2012
Great link! Heh, some of those pieces border on being pornographic. I particularly like the Henning and Dahl-Jensen works. Exquisitely painted. One day soon I’m going to do a post (or maybe a couple) on my favorite porcelain company, Lladro. I have a ton of images saved. I also have a nice big coffee table book of Lladro, and there are a few in there I’d like to scan for this blog, particularly a little centaur girl, possibly the cutest objet d’art I’ve ever seen.

From Rev. Benjamin M. Root IV on January 18, 2012
Let’s see it. Sounds great. I love the centauress, but her forehead is a little too high, making her a little cartoony.

From pipstarr72 on January 18, 2012
This is the one. And again here. Mine, of course, will be much larger. I don’t see what you mean about her forehead; I disagree emphatically. Bear in mind that she is coyly looking downward, which distorts her face a bit in photos (a foreshortening effect.)

From Rev. Benjamin M. Root IV on January 18, 2012
Oh, with some googling, I now see that there are at least 3 versions of a centaura (and one boy). I really do like the demure standing one. Not the cartoony face of the others.

From pipstarr72 on January 18, 2012
Lladro has four different little centaur girls I know of (and one boy, as you point out.) Only one of these centaur girls is standing, and that’s the one I like best and for which I have a large-scale image. This one is often sold as a pair with the boy centaur, so you might search for them together in Google and get more images. I’m not sure, I haven’t tried it yet myself.