Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Dance of Life & The Waltz

Edvard Munch, The Dance of Life,(Part of  Frieze of Life Series) 1899-1900
(National Gallery, Oslo)
Munch saw dancing as an act of love and procreation.  The Dance of Life, that is the centerpiece of his Frieze of Life series, encompasses the three stages of a woman's life - youth, maturity, old age.  The girl with the white dress with golden hair, standing by a flower represents innocence, the mature woman in the middle wearing a red dress and dancing with a man represents passion and the self-contained black clad woman on the right looking on to the dancing couple represents experience while in the background, other couples whirl around in the dance of life.  The scene takes place on Asgardstrand shore in Norway, the image of the moon and its shadow which is Munch's invention, drawing the eye to the background.

This work is also an autobiographical work, because the couple dancing in the middle is  Munch and Mrs. Heiberg, his love, while the two figures on the left and right are Tulla Larsen, another one of his lovers who married someone else.  He and his lover are almost united into one figure; her hair comes down and while her skirt also echoes the motion, it goes all around them as a red outline surrounding and encompassing them completely.  They are living in their moment and no one can break into it.  She actually didn't have such long hair but Munch used women's hair as a surrounding and uniting element in his paintings.

In order to make it more truthful, he has ravaged the surface of the painting.  He did not want the surface of the painting to look fine. This brought the whole scene into reality.

Camille Claudel, The Waltz, 1895
(Musee Rodin, Paris)
Artists at the end of the 19th century were trying to represent love, lovemaking, capturing emotion, conveying the idea of two bodies merging into one in a dance which was like love making.  One of the most beautiful works of art representing this idea is The Waltz by Camille Claudel.  She has captured the perfect rhythm of two souls which is so full of drama and emotion. Their hands intertwined, lost in the moment, lost in each other. Claudel, the woman whose name is forgotten and never got the recognition she deserved as an artist because she was always overshadowed by her great love, Rodin.  She actually wanted to make this out of marble but she couldn't afford the materials.  She showed it to the ministry of culture with hopes of getting a commission but the idea of a couple intertwined completely naked (they were nude at first) was unspeakable and the fact that the sculptor was a woman only added insult to injury.  She later covered them with her skirt, obscuring all the offending parts of their bodies, but she still didn't get the commission.  It was cast in bronze later by a wealthy gentleman.  The woman who made this graceful, elegant sculpture was only referred to as a copyist of Rodin.

Munch sought to capture emotional turmoil in his work which he called the Modern Life of the Soul.  He objectified his own personal experience, transferring it to an extensive statement about the human condition and contemporary society.  Camille Claudel, on the other hand, captured human emotions so poetically, giving  a different interpretation to the dance of life, conveying all that is beautiful and wonderful in a loving relationship.

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