Saturday, July 13, 2013

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: 'Jeu de l'Echarpe,' 1898-1904

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This delicate figure of white biscuit porcelain is part of a grand table design of fifteen standing female sculptures of the “scarf dance” made famous by Loïe Fuller. The group was made between 1898 and 1904, designed by Agathon Léonard for the Sèvres porcelain factory in Paris.

This fluid, elegant group was intended for display on a table or sideboard and depicts each step in Fuller’s celebrated dance—“Jeu de l'Echarpe.” Agathon Léonard was careful in the design of the group, mastering each motion and expression of Fuller’s dance. He was born Léonard Agathon van Weydeveldt of Belgian parents and trained as a sculptor, specializing in ceramic modeling. The group from which this sculpture comes is considered one of his great triumphs.

The full group, fittingly entitled “Jeu de I'Echarpe,” was first shown in the Paris 1900 Exhibition at which Sèvres won a Grand Prix, and was described in the exhibition report as "elegant figures in a graceful and charming ensemble which were a great and deserved success.” This figure and its porcelain sisters typify the spirit of Art Nouveau style—undulation, movement, and the idealized female form. Léonard couldn’t have picked a better subject than Miss Fuller. The American dancer was a regular fixture at the Folies Bergère, Paris where her free-flowing, silk-clad dance caught the attention of many an artist, including the French artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec who was also drawn to the elegant theatricality of the spectacle.

The figure is marked number “12” of the group of fifteen and bears the marks “S” and “1904.”

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