Samuel Joshua Beckett (British, Shadwell, Stepney [London] 1870–1940 Bournemouth)
Gelatin silver print
10.3 x 13.3 cm (4 x 5 1/4 in.), irregularly trimmed
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Mrs. Walter Annenberg and The Annenberg Foundation Gift, 2005
Not on view
The American dancer Loie Fuller (1862-1928) conquered Paris on her opening night at the Folies-Bergère on November 5, 1892. Manipulating with bamboo sticks an immense skirt made of over a hundred yards of translucent, iridescent silk, the dancer evoked organic forms --butterflies, flowers, and flames--in perpetual metamorphosis through a play of colored lights. Loie Fuller's innovative lighting effects, some of which she patented, transformed her dances into enthralling syntheses of movement, color, and music, in which the dancer herself all but vanished. Artists and writers of the 1890s praised her art as an aesthetic breakthrough, and the Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé, who saw her perform in 1893, wrote in his essay on her that her dance was "the theatrical form of poetry par excellence." Immensely popular, she had her own theater at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, promoted other women dancers including Isadora Duncan, directed experimental movies, and stopped performing only in 1925. Loie Fuller's whirling, undulating silhouette, which embodied the fluid lines of Art Nouveau, inspired many images, from the portraits of Toulouse-Lautrec and the posters of Jules Chéret and Alphonse Mucha to the sculptures of Pierre Roche and Théodore Rivière, as well as the photographs of Harry C. Ellis and Eugène Druet. The three pictures shown here depict movements from such dances as "Dance of the Lily" and "Dance of Flame." These images do not pretend to evoke the otherworldly effect of the performance, which took place on a darkened stage in front of a complex set of mirrors and whose magic was entirely dependent on lighting. Here, the strange shapes, reminiscent of chalices and butterflies, take form, incongruously, in the middle of an urban park, through the efforts of a short, stout figure. Arrested in crude natural light, they still retain, however, their spellbinding energy. Part of a group of thirteen photographs complemented by six others in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, these images belonged to the sculptor Théodore Rivière (1857-1912), and were previously thought to have been made by him. They have now been reattributed to Samuel Joshua Beckett, a photographer working in London.
Inscription: Inscribed in pencil, print verso, C: "23"; TR: "2"
Theodore Rivière; [...]; [Galerie Texbraun, Paris]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, Feb. 1, 1985
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 45," January 9, 2007 - May 6, 2007.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," May 25, 1993–July 4, 1993.
Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," August 7, 1993–October 2, 1993.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," June 19, 1994–September 11, 1994.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "As It Happened: Photographs from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," May 7, 2002–August 25, 2002.
Ewing, William A. The Fugitive Gesture: Masterpieces of Dance Photography. London: Thames and Hudson, 1987. pls. 52, 53.
Hambourg, Maria Morris, Pierre Apraxine, Malcolm Daniel, Virginia Heckert, and Jeff L. Rosenheim. The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. no. 135 a, b, c.
Sobieszek, Robert A. Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul, 1850–2000: Essays on Camera Portraiture. Cambridge, Mass.: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1999. p. 269.