Art of Dance by Louise Irvine Featured in the Doulton Collectors Club

Royal Doulton plays a major role in the Stage & Screen exhibition currently at the Wiener Museum of Decorative Arts in South Florida. The show highlights the impact of the performing arts on figurine designers and features famous dancers of the early 20th century

The art of dance was revolutionized in the early 1900s by the Ballet Russes, the creation of Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev. From their 1909 debut in Paris until Diaghilev’s death in 1929, the Ballet Russes toured Europe and North America, causing a sensation with their avant-garde artistic collaborations among young choreographers, composers, dancers, and designers. Tales from Russian folklore fueled western fascination for the exotic and the fabulous sets and costume designs by artists, such as Leon Bakst, were a huge influence on fashions and décor of the day.

Bakst’s designs for Scheherezade, with its orientalist dancing, led to an international craze on stage and screen. The Dance of the Seven Veils in Oscar Wilde’s play Salome also helped stimulate the fashion for veil dancing. Salome had evolved from a biblical character into a symbol of female lust, unveiling herself seductively as she danced before King Herod for the head of John the Baptist. Leslie Harradine’s figurine of Carnival reflects this exotic trend with its mild eroticism.

Leon Bakst also designed the set and costumes for The Good Humoured Ladies, first performed by the Ballet Russes in Rome in 1917. The comic ballet revolves around the diversions of a count disguised as a woman at a carnival. The Royal Doulton pattern books show that Charles Noke modeled two figurines from this ballet in 1920, neither of which went into production. So far, only the Marquise Sylvestra has been found and is on show in the Stage & Screen exhibition at WMODA. Does anybody know the whereabouts of the Mendicant Fiddler #293?

Anna Pavlova was the superstar of the Russian ballet and the Dying Swan became her signature solo. Charles Noke’s rare figurine of Pavlova depicts her in this role and two HN pattern numbers were launched in 1921 and 1924. Examples of Pavlova, also known as Swansong, are very hard to find today. Pavlova formed her own touring company in 1910 and brought ballet to the attention of the world in a long dancing career. Her last words on her deathbed were “Get my swan costume ready.”

Noke was also responsible for Royal Doulton’s extremely rare Tambourine Dancer, which was inspired by a set of dancing figures exhibited by Sèvres at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900. They represented the free style scarf dancing made famous by Loie Fuller, an American working in Paris. Miss Fuller began her theatrical career in burlesque and became famous for her serpentine dance. She wore patented costumes of silk which were illuminated by multi-colored lighting of her own design. Loie Fuller was a regular performer at the Folies Bergère where she became the muse of many famous artists and the embodiment of the Art Nouveau movement.

In 1902, Loie Fuller invited Isadora Duncan, another American dancer, to tour Europe with her. Together they widened the appeal of improvised, expressive free-style forms of dance using flowing costumes and sinuous scarves. Isadora Duncan opened schools in Europe and America to teach young women her dance philosophy and her protegées became known as the “Isadorables.” She died tragically when her scarf became entangled in the wheels of a car.  Peter Gee’s figure of Isadora, which is also known as Celeste, was inspired by this innovative dancer.

Birds, bats and butterflies inspired beautiful ballets and dancers, such as Adeline Genée and Phyllis Monkman, achieved fame for fluttering diaphanous wings in sensual movements.  Party-goers metamorphosed into dazzling butterflies for fancy dress balls during the roaring 1920s and their outfits were captured in porcelain by Royal Doulton. Butterfly and bird costumes with fantastic feathers became a feature of the chorus line and semi-nude sculptures of beautiful women were in vogue during the 1920s.

The 1930s was the “Golden Age of Hollywood” with talkies and full-color motion pictures featuring the iconic dancing stars, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Their sensual pin-up photos presented a new concept of glamor and inspired elegant women to wear slinky satin gowns cut on the bias to swirl seductively.  Royal Doulton’s figurine Rhythm captures the beautiful fluid movement of these Jazz Age fashions.

In more recent times Royal Doulton artists, such as Tim Potts and Valerie Annand, have revived the dancing styles of the early 20th century. The bronze and ivory sculptures of the Russian ballet by Demetre Chiparus inspired Tim’s magnificent Art Deco collection.  Valerie’s Butterfly Ladies are reminiscent of Phyllis Monkman in her diaphanous winged costumes. Some of Valerie’s more extravagant dancing figurines from the 1990s did not go into production and exist only in prototype form.

All these rare Royal Doulton figurines can be seen on display at the Wiener Museum of Decorative Arts in Dania Beach, Florida. Visit for more details.

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