An Analysis of Abraham Walkowitz and Isadora Duncan

By Hannah Amuka

Isadora Duncan Image Credit: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/agc.7a15056/
Abraham Walkowitz Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Walkowitz

At the turn of the twentieth century, the art world was taken over by a rebellious spirit– one that withdrew from traditions and academia and instead prioritized creativity and originality. The modernist art movement influenced writers, painters, sculptors, and dancers alike. The rapid transformations witnessed across the globe inspired new modes of representation and responding to the changing environment. It challenged capitalism and the values of the upper middle-class, and instead revered the lifestyle of common men and women. The years between 1900 and 1940 were characterized by radical changes pushed by many artists who were developing art centered on personal expression and a contempt for conformity.

As an early modernist artist, Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965) was drawn to Isadora Duncan’s (1877-1927) unique and expressive style of dance. Rather than following the rigid rules of ballet, Duncan performed in a fashion that was meant to be free and natural, allowing her arms and legs to move in very smooth motions that evoked waves in the ocean and trees swaying in the wind.[1] In 1906 Abraham Walkowitz and Isadora Duncan met in Paris and, for the next 20 years, she was his muse.  Walkowitz saw her break from traditional dancing as the embodiment of new artistic freedom. At the turn of the century, Paris was at the forefront of a new avant-garde school of thought and, for this reason, the city became a hub for modern ways of seeing.[2]

During his career, Walkowitz painted several hundred pictures of Isadora Duncan with great attention to her expressive power. In a 1969 interview, the painter gave insight to Isadora’s profound effect on his body of work. He is quoted as saying, “I have done more Duncans than I have hair on my head,” and “She had no law. She didn’t dance according to rules. She created. Her body was music.” [3] 

For Abraham Walkowitz, his drawings and paintings sought to capture the dancer’s movements through line work that symbolized her spontaneity, the organic movement of her arms and legs, and the immediacy of the dance itself. Much like Duncan, Walkowitz believed in art that stimulated feeling over logic and that responded to the environment above all else. Until her tragic and untimely death, the two artists did just that.

Isadora Duncan’s life ended suddenly in 1927 when a long scarf worn by the dancer got caught in the wheel of her car as she was driving, killing her instantly.[4]  In a memorial exhibition three years later, Abraham Walkowitz celebrated Isadora’s life, forever glorifying her contribution to dance and the subsequent projection of her graceful movements on Walkowitz’s body of work, which has come to define his career.      

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[1] Jim Tedder, “Isadora Duncan, 1877-1927: The Mother of Modern Dance”  https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/isadora-duncan-1877-1927-the-mother-of-modern-dance-101714348/114147.html

[2] Wayne Craven, American Art History and Culture “Painting: The Modern Mode 1900-1940”. 2003 McGraw Hill Companies First Edition.

[3] Abram Lerner, et al. “A Tape Recorded Interview with Abraham Walkowitz.” Archives of American Art Journal, vol. 9, no. 1, 1969, p. 10. EBSCOhost.

[4] Jim Tedder “Isadora Duncan, 1877-1927: The Mother of Modern Dance”

https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/isadora-duncan-1877-1927-the-mother-of-modern-dance-101714348/114147.html

Permanent Collection Image: Untitled, undated By Abraham Walkowitz Pencil on paper ©MCMA Permanent Collection Donated by Virginia Zabriskie, 1993.002.005