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Last curtain call for Nijinsky: Total for Chiparus' dancers nears £1 million at Bonhams
Created circa 1928, the central male figure is thought to be modelled on Vaslav Nijinksky, star male ballet dancer at The Ballet Russes and lover to the company’s director. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- The Finale, an important bronze and ivory sculpture by Demetre Chiparus depicting a curtain call by dancers from The Ballet Russes was star of the show as it was secured by a bidder on the telephone for £290,500 at Bonhams 20th Century Decorative Arts Sale yesterday (26th November).

Created circa 1928, the central male figure is thought to be modelled on Vaslav Nijinksky, star male ballet dancer at The Ballet Russes and lover to the company’s director.

The Finale follows the great success of Chiparus sculptures at Bonhams including a study of Vaslav Nijinsky’s sister: Alméria, a dancing girl figure modelled on Bronislava Nijinska who was also a star ballerina at The Ballet Russes, sold for £265,250 in June of this year. An ivory and bronze sculpture by Demetre Chiparus of the Dolly Sisters, the legendary performing identical twins from the 1920s Jazz Age, sold for £277,250 in November 2012 bringing the total for the three Chiparus stage inspired sculptures to £833,000.

Mark Oliver, Director of Bonhams Decorative Arts Department commented: “We are delighted with yet another impressive price for a Chiparus sculpture in yesterday’s sale. Chiparus has seen a recent flurry of International interest and this is demonstrated by the brilliant prices achieved at Bonhams for studies inspired by The Ballet Russes and Paris stage performers; The Dolly Sisters, Alméria and now The Finale.”

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. At 65cm high, it is the largest of the three sizes designed by Chiparus.

Chiparus (1886-1947) was a Romanian artist and sculptor who 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. Diaghilev 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 soon fell ill with schizophrenia and to spend the rest of his life in mental institutions.

Dancers in The Ballet Russes 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 Russes 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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