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'The Finale' capturing a curtain call at the Ballet Russe: Chiparus for sale at Bonhams
Important Chiparus sculpture shows Vaslav Nijinsky, lead male ballet dancer and lover to company director. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- The Finale, an important bronze and ivory sculpture by Demetre Chiparus depicting a curtain call by dancers of The Ballet Russes takes the lead role in the 20th Century Decorative Arts Sale at Bonhams New Bond Street on 26th November. Created circa 1928, the central male figure is thought to be modelled on Vaslav Nijinksky, star male ballet dancer at The Ballet Russe and lover to the company’s director. The sculpture is estimated to sell at £200,000-£300,000.

At 65cm high, it is the largest of the three sizes designed by Chiparus. The art deco patinated bronze and carved ivory sculpture shows a male ballet dancer in elaborate red and gold costume, flanked by two females – their swinging skirts brilliantly capturing the dancers in synchronized motion.

Mark Oliver, Director of Decorative Arts at Bonhams, comments: “This triple group by Demetre Chiparus evokes all the colour, excitement and inspiring costume that the Ballet Russes offered its audience. It is wonderful to have Nijinsky and two female dancers lending the model such atmosphere. This is the third dramatic Chiparus model that Bonhams have offered for sale in the past year and is a particularly rare and imposing study. I anticipate a high level of international interest in the model when it goes on display at our New Bond Street galleries this November”.

Chiparus (1886-1947), the Romanian artist and sculptor, lived and worked for most of his life in Paris. French theatre performers, Russian ballet dancers and stars of early motion pictures were often the subject of his works.

Nijinsky and The Ballet Russes
The Ballet Russes was formed in Paris under the visionary Russian artistic director, Sergei Diaghilev, who had become frustrated with the extremely conservative Russian art world. Known for its ground-breaking artistic work, the company attracted collaborations between some of the greatest artists and composers of the 20th century such as Picasso, Matisse, Roerich, Leon Baskt, Coco Chanel and Stravinsky while producing the highest standard of dancers, among which were the legendary Ana Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky. Under Diaghilev the company unseated traditional conceptions of ballet, shocking audiences, and in particular, bringing the male dancer into the spotlight in a role that was more than simply supporting the ballerinas.

Vaslav Nijinsky signed a contract as the company’s leading dancer at the age of 18, choreographing and starring in countless productions to great success. He was even immortalised in a sculpture by Rodin.

Diaghilev was known to have affairs with a number of his leading male dancers, Nijinsky being the most famous. Diaghliev presented some of his star dancers with expensive rings as a reminder of their faithfulness to him and in a bid to ‘marry them to their art’. However, following a romance while the company was on tour in South America, Nijinsky was married to a Hungarian socialite. Diaghilev was furious at the news, seeing the marriage as a personal and artistic betrayal. He ordered Nijinsky to be expelled from the company immediately. In a tragic conclusion, Nijinsky was soon to fall ill with schizophrenia and spent the rest of his life in mental institutions.

Dancers in The Ballet Russe came largely from the Russian community, exiled in France after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and trained in Paris. The company performed throughout Europe between 1909 and 1929 and, despite its roots, never performed in Russia.

The Ballet Russe did much to raise the profile of the male dancer, a role that had been ignored in the 19th century. In Chiparus’ study, The Finale, the male ballet dancer takes centre stage.

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