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Juliet Bellow: "Faunesque: Auguste Rodin, Vaslav Nijinsky, and Public Sexuality in Paris, ca. 1912"

Thursday, October 19, 2023 16:30to17:30
Arts Building Room W-215, 853 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, QC, H3A 0G5, CA

de Meye, Nijinsky in opening tableau (ballet)Rodin's sculpture of Nijinsky








On the evening of May 29, 1912, Vaslav Nijinsky, the star dancer for the Ballets Russes troupe, made his choreographic debut to a packed house at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Set in archaic Greece, L’Après-midi d’un faune concerned a young faun’s lustful and ultimately fruitless pursuit of two alluring nymphs, which culminated in an onanistic sex act. The morning after, the newspaper Le Matin published a front-page article by “the great sculptor Rodin” that praised the ballet’s contribution to a modern aesthetic and compared its beauty with that of ancient Greek statuary. In the following days, Nijinsky and Rodin were swept up in a scandal stirred by critics who denounced both artists for their perceived offenses against public morality. The affaire Nijinsky is one of the most famous scandals in the history of modern art, yet there has been surprisingly little reflection on its causes and effects. This talk will consider why Rodin and Nijinsky publicly tied themselves to one another, and what their decision to do so tells us about the connections between dance, sculpture, bodies, and sex circa 1912. It will situate the scandal in the hyper-partisan atmosphere of the early French Third Republic and discuss its links to Parisian music-hall culture, where the limits of tolerance for displays of sexuality were regularly tested. The talk will also relate this episode to Rodin’s successful campaign to convert his studio in the Hôtel Biron into the Musée Rodin. It will show how Nijinsky helped Rodin to revolutionize the art of sculpture and to present himself as an embodiment of the Republic’s secular values.

About the speaker: Juliet Bellow’s research centers on visual artists' experimentations with intermediality in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her book Modernism on Stage: The Ballets Russes and the Parisian Avant-Garde, published in 2013 by Ashgate Press, analyzes set and costume designs by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Sonia Delaunay and Giorgio de Chirico for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes troupe. She also served as Consulting Scholar for the 2013 exhibition "Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes: When Art Danced With Music." She has published in the Art Bulletin, Art Journal, American Art, and Modernism/modernity, as well as exhibition catalogues on Auguste Rodin, Henri Matisse, Sonia Delaunay, Merce Cunningham, and Claude Debussy.

Dr. Bellow's current book project, entitled Rodin's Dancers: Sculpture in the Age of Spectacle, is the first in-depth study of the artist's engagement with dance, and the first to examine the intertwined histories of dance and sculpture at a pivotal moment in the development of both media. This research was supported by a fellowship at the Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University.

Dr. Bellow teaches courses on a range of thematic issues and materials relating to European art of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, including "Art and Dance, 1860-1960," "Women and the Avant-Garde," "Revolutionary Aesthetics: Art and Politics in Nineteenth-Century France," and "Museums and Society."


The talk will be followed by a reception in the AHCS hallway.

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