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Isadora Duncan
June 4, 2009

Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan by Abraham Walkowitz

Abraham Walkowitz's iconic sketches of dancer Isadora Duncan capture her spirit, passion, and zest. They also reveal her sturdy physique, which is the opposite of the balletic ideal. While ballet dancers strive for perfection in a kind of rarefied air, Duncan—considered the mother of modern dance—refused to wear shoes while she performed and relished her bare feet touching the earth. Poet Walt Whitman may have heard America singing, but Duncan heard and heeded the call for a unique, American style of movement.

Duncan's garment of choice was the Grecian tunic. In 1921, Edward Steichen photographed her in Greece. In one of these photos, she stands between two columns of the Parthenon like a heroine from another time. She believed in devoting her life to art and was inspired by the music of Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and Schubert. Her personal life was marked by both triumph and tragedy. Her autobiography, My Life, was published shortly after her death and remains one of my favorites.

Artist Abraham Walkowitz was born in Russia but came to the States and became involved in Alfred Steiglitz's circle, which formed around his 291 Gallery in Manhattan. Walkowitz met Duncan at Auguste Rodin's studio in Paris and would create thousands of drawings and watercolors of the dancer in motion.

In addition to art, dance, and painting, Duncan and Walkowitz had Russia in common. In 1922, Duncan married famed Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, who would die too young in 1925 at the age of thirty. Duncan followed two years later in an ill-fated car trip. "I go to my glory" were reportedly her last words as her car sped away. Walkowitz, however, lived to be eighty-six and created a large body of work, including the images of Duncan—what I think of as his most resonant. They still dance.

To find out more about Abraham Walkowitz and his sketches of Isadora Duncan, check out his oral history interview at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. The Archives has posted a portrait of Walkowitz on the Smithsonian's Flickr set as well.

Posted by Howard on June 4, 2009 in American Art Here


I love the painting of Isadora Duncan. Not just because of the vibrant colors in the work, but because of her vibrant lifestyle. Her ability to do the unusual and to have an artist become fascinated with that unique characteristic and ability that she possessed, makes the painting even more fascinating and intriguing.

What a lady she was and what a life she lived. This Dancing sketch Isadora Duncan shows her high spirit and passion for dancing. In my imagination she looked a free soul while dancing.

About Duncan, Walkowitz recalled “She was a Muse. She had no laws. She didn’t dance according to rules. She created. She was like music. When she moved it was like the sound of violins, she was the Walt Whitman of women.” Utilizing minimal line, the artist evokes the energy of the dancer and records her expressive body gestures. Walkowitz captured the natural contour lines of her dance in quick studies which were used to produce much more dynamic and less studied poses.

Anyone in their 60s today has heard the name of Isadora Duncan regarding her career in dance and ballet. Abraham Walkowitz is not as well known. Now, people today in their 40s, for example do not know of or understand the fame and talent of Isadora. Perhaps 30 years ago I purchased a large set of Abraham Walkowitz original sketches of Duncan. He did many of these over many years and each is a little different. I wonder if there is even a market for these today?

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