Sunday, September 15, 2013

Figure of the Day: Le Papillion, 1861

Emma Livry as "Le Papillion"
Jean August Barre, 1861
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This delicate figurine is the work of Jean Auguste Barre (1811-1896) and depicts the young French ballerina Emma Livry (1842-1863) as “Le Papillon” (The Butterfly).

Livry, is considered “one of the last Romantic ballerinas.” She trained at the Paris Opéra (let’s drop some chandeliers), and later studied with one of the greatest Romantic dancers Marie Taglioni, who noted in Livry, “an ethereal lightness.”

In 1860 Taglioni choreographed “Le Papillon” especially for Livry. The ballet concerns a girl who is turned into a butterfly by an evil fairy. The spell broken when the girl is attracted to a flame which burns her wings.

Ironically and tragically, the plot of the ballet sadly foreshadowed Emma Livry's death at the age of twenty from burns sustained after her dress caught fire when the light fabric of her costume caught the gas jet footlights on the stage. While fabric could be fireproofed, Livry, like many dancers, refused the chemicals on her costumes since they made the fabric stiff and thus less ethereal on stage.

Barre depicts Livry on a multicolored floral base. She is supported on the tip of her left foot, her right leg raised behind with a slightly bent knee. Her arms are curved above her head. She wears the costume of the “Butterfly.” The figure was created in 1861, two years before her death.

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