As I noted in my previous post about Rönnebeck’s Isadora Duncan drawings, I had not yet corroborated my working theory on how he came to create several watercolors and many sketches of Isadora Duncan in Paris in 1912. My theory was based both on family lore and other reading I had done on the subject. I had thought that while Bourdelle was sketching Isadora for the Théâtre des Champs des Elysées relief panels in 1911 and 1912, his students, including Arnold Rönnebeck, simply sketched alongside him. Seemed logical. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In November 2019 I had the great pleasure of spending half a day in the archives at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris. There, I read several of Rönnebeck’s letters to Bourdelle, written between May 1920 and June 1923. No answers were found in the letters. Thankfully, however, I had the opportunity to speak with the museum’s archivist and the curator of drawings and paintings. They were both so kind and generous with their time and shared fascinating information with me. I mentioned my theory. They put an end to that idea very quickly. They told me that Isadora NEVER sat (or danced, in her case) for artists. Photographers, yes. Artists, no. Not even for Bourdelle who had executed innumerable sculptures and drawings of her throughout their friendship of 24 years. Bourdelle first saw Isadora dance in 1909 at the Théâtre de la Gaité-Lyrique. He was so inspired by what he saw that the following day he executed 150 drawings of her.
The Musée Bourdelle archivist and curator told me that Bourdelle made all his drawings and sculpture of her from memory after her performances. They said it was likely that Rönnebeck did the same. In November and December of 1911, Isadora performed at the Théâtre du Chatelet on the right bank in Paris. I am guessing that Rönnebeck attended one, if not more, of her performances at that time. Perhaps, like his teacher, Bourdelle, he made the sketches in 1911 immediately following the performance. The watercolors were completed in 1912. Unfortunately I have yet to find any references to Isadora in Rönnebeck’s 1911 journal, so again, I am speculating. I would imagine it would be difficult, if not impossible, to draw and capture her pioneering style without the benefit of seeing her on stage. Since her life was tragically cut short, I am thankful that we have so many artists’ representations of her pioneering style.
If one ever has the opportunity to visit the Musée Bourdelle in Paris, I highly recommend it.