Vivace: Isadora Duncan in Paris

Movement.  Paris was all about movement between 1911 and 1913.  Well, at least it seemed to be in the Parisian art world.  Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase debuted at the March 1912 Salon des Indépendants, the Italian futurists had a landmark exhibition at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in February 1912, Ballets Russes dance performances were causing riots, and Isadora Duncan’s innovative dance performances were inspiring artists in Paris and around the world.

During this period, Rönnebeck was living on rue Saint Gothard in the Montparnasse neighborhood of Paris while studying sculpture with Émile-Antoine Bourdelle at Académie de la Grande Chaumière.  He attended all the local exhibitions, including the Salon d’Autumne, Salon des Indépendants and the futurist show, writing about them in his journal.  It was also during 1912 that Rönnebeck developed his friendships with Marsden Hartley, Gertrude Stein and Charles Demuth, but that is a whole other story that has been well-documented elsewhere.

In late 1911, Bourdelle took on the task of creating the exterior decoration for a modern and monumental project being built on Avenue Montaigne in Paris:  Le Theatre des Champs-Elysées.  The theme of his relief panels was The Meditation of Apollo and the Nine Muses.  All of the muses were inspired by the dance and movement of Isadora Duncan.  Bourdelle first met Isadora in 1903 at a picnic celebrating Rodin’s investiture as a Commander of the Legion of Honor, but he didn’t see her dance until 1909.  In order to create the marble relief sculptures for the theatre, Bourdelle made dozens, maybe even hundreds, of sketches of Isadora dancing.  In the theatre panel entitled “La Danse”, Isadora is paired with the Ballets Russes dancer and choreographer, Vaslav Nijinsky, whose choreography of the Ballets Russes’s Rites of Spring caused riots after their performance at the Theatre des Champs-Elysées in their inaugural 1913 season.

It was also during 1912 that Rönnebeck sketched, drew and painted Isadora.  My (as yet uncorroborated) theory is that Bourdelle’s students sketched Isadora right alongside him.  I am still trying to find out more about this.   I am not aware of Rönnebeck turning any of his sketches of her into sculpture.   He did, however, turn six drawings of Isadora’s movements into completed ink and watercolor paintings on paper, as shown above.  Each is titled using musical terms:  Caprizioso, Vivace, Andante, Allegretto, Furioso and Finale.  Before completing those watercolors, Rönnebeck, too, made dozens of sketches of Isadora in a variety of dance movements, a small selection of those are shown above, as well.

I think only a few seconds of film exist of Isadora Duncan dancing.  Thankfully painters and sculptors, such as Rönnebeck and Bourdelle, have documented her dance, rising to the challenge of translating her dynamic motion into line, paint, ink and marble.