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Dancing Figure

Dancing Figure


Elie Nadelman

(American, 1882-1946)



Overall: 79.4 x 35.6 x 28 cm (31 1/4 x 14 x 11 in.)

Bequest of James Parmelee 1940.575


Elie Nadelman's Kneeling Dancer has also been called Dancer, Dancing Figure, and Artemis. The variety of titles tells us something about the subject of the work, but it also indicates that the subject is unclear. The pose of the figure is complex, graceful, and unnatural. It suggests that she is a dancer, even though she is not in motion. Artemis is the name of an ancient Greek goddess, the sister of the sun god Apollo, and associated with the moon and with hunting. The arrangement of the sculpture's hair, her very regular facial features, and her short skirt are details that relate her to ancient Greek representations of Artemis. Yet her bare upper torso and boot-like footwear have nothing to do with the traditional garb of the goddess. The question of whether this sculpture portrays Artemis or any other ancient personage cannot be easily answered on the basis of what we see, and Nadelman left no evidence of his intentions. Kneeling Dancer looks as though she might be ancient, but beyond that we cannot be certain. Nadelman, who was born in Poland, worked in Paris before World War I (1914–18), when that city was a hotbed of modernism in the visual arts. There he became acquainted with many artists who were leaders of the modernist movement, including Pablo Picasso. The simplified forms Nadelman used in his sculpture reflect modernist influences, but the references to ancient Greco-Roman art, which also characterize his work, made it seem more traditional than much of the revolutionary Parisian production of the time. In 1914 Nadelman moved to New York. The modernism of his sculpture, combined with more traditional references to ancient classical style, quickly won him success among wealthy collectors who wanted things that were up-to-date but also decorative. Kneeling Dancer was originally carved in marble between 1916 and 1918 to ornament the garden of the William Goodby Loew estate on Long Island. The marble version is now at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia. Perhaps soon after, Nadelman produced the same design in bronze. At least six castings in this material are known today. The sleek, shiny metal surfaces and slender, curved appendages of the bronzes indicate that this material is more appropriate for the design than marble. Nadelman stated, "I employ no other line than the curve, which possesses freshness and force." Nadelman's early success did not last. Although he continued to create quite distinctive sculpture, often in wood or ceramic, after about 1920 his level of popularity decreased, and by the 1930s he lived almost as a recluse. It was only after his death in 1946 that interest in his work increased again. Now he enjoys a position of great prestige in the history of 20th-century American sculpture.

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