To Dance Her Life


She is coming, the dancer of the future: the free spirit, who will inhabit the body of new women; more glorious than any woman that has yet been; more beautiful than all women in past centuries: the highest intelligence in the freest body.

The Dance of the Future, 1903[1]


Legend having taken hold of her name, in fact, of her first name, we hesitate how best to describe her: a myth or an icon? Barefoot dancer, founder of free dance, mother of modern dance: the ways of representing her, even if accurate, serve paradoxically to fix her in a place, to tie her down, Isadora, who in her entire life never stopped showing how the dancer’s body, when it is moving in a certain manner, can express “what is the most moral, the sanest and the loveliest in art…” as she says in her celebrated manifesto, The Dance of the Future, at the beginning of the twentieth century.[2] Of the forms this approach to dance has adopted, there remain only a few fragments. That is due, on one hand, to the fact that Duncan always refused the mobileslotcash film medium, judging it insufficient to represent the profoundly cinematic nature of her artistic practice. Thirty-three seconds of a sequence probably filmed without her knowing it, in a garden, perhaps in Russia, show her spinning about, her arms raised to the heavens, her head thrown back, an ecstatic smile on her lips, then saluting a well-heeled audience. That’s the only archived film we have of her. The very rich catalogue of images to which we owe much of our knowledge of the familiar poses of the dance, doubtless says more about the attraction she had for the contemporary artists, sculptors, and photographers of her time than it gives her exact repertory. We think of Bourdelle trying to capture her labile silhouette and her syncopated step, in his powerful and vigorous stroke, or of Grandjouan inspired by her gestures to make his pastel sketches into a real “drawing in motion,”[3] or of Steichen photographing her in the long framing of a Parthenon portico, at once small and majestic. Besides, there is no precise notation of the Duncanian motion: one of the principal preoccupations of her existence was the creation of schools and the education of children through dance, her teaching founded on observation and empathy. The transmission of her art owes a great deal to the group of six students from her Grunewald school, the famous “Isadorables,” at the origin of Duncanian companies, encouraging the interpretation of the Isadorian gesture till today. The writings Duncan has left us also participate in the legend that she knowingly helped to forge.

Mostly they contain press clippings during the international tours, and her autobiography, soberly entitled Ma Vie and left unfinished at her accidental death in September 1927.[4] Does it come as a revelation that this artist who made interior observation the very source of motion left no intimate journal? With her, the writing is on the contrary a projection toward the exterior: most of her memories will be dictated to secretaries, whereas the publications on dance will adopt a proselytizing or manifesto-type tone, and her speeches to the press and her public read like declarations of love or war. The conviction and sincerity of her declarations are at every turn both surprising and delightful, energized by a profound coherence, lending a freshness to the style and images undiminished by the repetitions and rehearsals. From bodily introspection to written extraversion, appears a single sinuous line or, to use a metaphor dear to the painting, a same permanent undertow.

This coherence has its roots in her childhood, a period marked by several decisive choices. From the outset of her autobiography, Duncan reminds us of the geographical importance of her origins, evoking the ocean’s movement beating upon the San Francisco shore, where she was born on May 26, 1877: “My first idea of movement, of the dance, certainly came from the rhythm of the waves.”[5] If this first indication lights up the Duncanian aesthetic, it also permits us to understand instantly how America is for Duncan a place idealized and mediated by contact with nature. All her life, the artist would conserve an abstract relation, both abstract and strangely dual with her native country: her Americanness would also rely on a certain pioneer spirit such as happens with iconic artistic figures, such as that of the poet Walt Whitman. As for so-called true America, the one of the Gilded Age (a gilded period marked by an economic growth unprecedented, certainly, but also an age of the sham propitious to the development of a mercantile spirit and philistinism denounced by writers and artists), she will deny all affinity with that age, going on later to mock the rich industrialists and bankers attending her performances in Boston or Philadelphia. The first pages of her memories express another important rejection, that of school. Very quickly, young Isadora was rebelling against the teaching methods of her professors:

It seems to me that the general education a child receives at school is absolutely useless… It all depended on a trick of memory, and whether I had taken the trouble to memorize the subject we were given to learn. And I really had not the slightest idea what it was about. (…) I hope that schools have changed since I was a little girl. My memory of the teaching of the public schools is that it showed a brutal incomprehension of children (Life, 4-5).

Luckily, what she didn’t learn in school, Isadora could acquire at home. Not that her family could offer her the services of someone to teach her at home: Joseph and Mary Duncan were already divorced when Isadora was three years old, and from then on Mary got along as well as she could, raising her four children by giving piano lessons. For the family in which Isadora was the youngest, music and books educated her:

I can never remember suffering from our poverty at home, where we took it as a matter of course, it was only at school that I suffered. (…) My real education came in the evening when my mother played to us Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Mozart, Chopin, or read aloud to us from Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats, or Burns. These hours were to us enchanted (Life, 6).

These first experiences will have a deep impact on Duncan. Repelled by the failure of the marriage of her parents as well as by the ambient puritanism not permitting women to cultivate their artistic talent outside of the home (like her aunt Augusta, who nevertheless had a voice that could have afforded her a great career of a lyric artist), she resolutely espoused the feminist cause:

I decided, then and there, that I would live to fight against marriage and for the emancipation of women, and for the right for every woman to have a child or children as it pleased her, and to uphold her right and her virtue (Life, 9).

Isadora, who would conceive three children from three different fathers, would be faithful to this credo. On the other hand, she would go against this when she married the poet Sergei Yesenin, we will see later under what circumstances. As for education, her initial positions would remain unshakable. The disappointment incurred at school and her desire to make of dance the pillar of a new form of teaching would cause her to found several schools in Germany, France, and Russia (but never, to her great misfortune, in her native country).

The good fortune for the young Isadora was growing up in the heart of a family discouraged neither by poverty or a life that could be qualified as bohemian. On the contrary. To the heroism and adventuresomeness of her mother will be added the intellectual bulimia and creativity of her brothers, Augustin and Raymond, and of her sister Elizabeth. At the age of ten, after having stated that she would no longer set foot in school, Isadora improvised dance lessons with the small girls of her neighborhood, and the Duncan sisters rapidly acquired a local reputation. Augustin having installed a little theatre in a garage, the Duncan clan performed there before leaving on a tour in some towns to the south of San Francisco. Nevertheless, the youngest of the family soon felt the need to leave her native city for a greater chance of success. She convinced her mother to accompany her and they left together for Chicago. For several months, despite the courage of the adolescent who walked up and down the streets looking for a job, they endured the greatest privations: “I think this summer was one of the most painful episodes in my life, and each time since that I have appeared in Chicago the sight of the streets has given me a sickening sensation of hunger” (Life, 19). Fortune smiled on them finally when Isadora, having learned that the troop of Augustin Daly had just arrived in town, presented herself before the celebrated dramatist to propose him her services. Doubtless intrigued by her audacity, he gave her a rendezvous in the fall, in New York. Thanks to the providential financial help of someone she knew in San Francisco, the family could buy itself train tickets for the East Coast.

Before she left the shores of Lake Michigan, even if her memoirs don’t mention it, Isadora found this period in Chicago not entirely unhelpful. In fact, she probably was able to admire the pavilions of the Universal Exhibition of 1893 still there during her sojourns, notably the Palace of Fine Arts (today the Museum of Science and Industry), whose Ionic style and ornamental moldings were modeled on the Erectheion, one of the temples of the Acropolis. This architecture, with its restrained geometry evocative of civic and social harmony, participated in a widespread wave of urban renovation, the City Beautiful movement led by the architects Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted during the last ten years of the nineteenth century. It is in this context of enthusiasm for Hellenism that the young dancer developed her own aesthetics of dance, colored by physical betterment and moral elevation, such as is seen at the turn of the century.

Despite Isadora’s hopes, their sojourn in New York was also disappointing. Daly gave her a few roles in a pantomime, an occasion for the young girl to admire the performances of Jane May and others. Nevertheless, this mute form disconnected from music seemed “too limited” (Life, 25) for Isadora’s taste. Terribly bored, she spent her free time reading Plato, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. At the end of one tour, she decided to resign. She was happier meeting Ethelbert Nevin, a young composer to whose music she could imagine several pieces called Narcissus, Ophelia, and Mermaids. Thanks to Nevin, she performed in the little room of Carnegie Hall, where she attracted the attention of several ladies of high society who invited her to dance in the intimacy of their town drawing rooms or in their villas in the very chic seaside resort of Newport. Isadora complained bitterly about the low fees, the lack of curiosity, and the disdain of these new patrons. Which in no way stopped her from asking for their aid when it was a matter of finances, an episode which she remembered not without irony:

“I shall be very famous someday,” I told [the wife of another millionaire who lived at the foot of Fifth Avenue] “and it will redound to your credit that you recognized American talent.” At length this possessor of about 60 million also presented me with a cheque–again of 50 dollars! But she added: “When you make money, you will send this back to me.” I never sent it back, preferring rather to give it to the poor (Life, 36).

If Isadora needed so much money, it is because she had decided to leave the United States behind to find a country more in tune with her artistic ideal. As soon as she was able to get together “the magnificent sum of three hundred dollars,” she left with the Duncan clan for London. It was 1899.

The English capital was up to Isadora’s hopes. Poorer than ever, the Duncans lived in dingy hotels or miserable studios, and remained hungry for days on end, but they were dazzled by the cultural richness of the city: “We were crazy with enthusiasm at the beauty of London. All the things that were culture and architectural beauty I had missed in America, but now I was able to drink my fill of them” (Life, 41). Rapidly, the British Museum became their favorite place, especially the department of antiquities, where Raymond sketched the scenes painted on the vases, while Isadora devoured Winckelmann’s Voyage to Athens. Both of them studied the poses of Greek statues. One day, walking near Grosvenor Square, Isadora recognized on a plaque the name of one of the very rich hostesses at whose place she had performed in New York. She presented herself immediately and the family was invited to perform. Dressed in materials rapidly purchased at Liberty’s, the young woman danced, accompanied by her mother on the piano:

Elizabeth read some poems of Theocritus, translated by Andrew Lang, and Raymond gave a short lecture upon the subject of dancing and its possible effect on the psychology of future humanity. This was slightly above the heads of our well-fed audience, but at the same time it was very successful, and the hostess was delighted (Life, 41).

This occasion confirms the salons and private hotels played a preponderant role in the Belle Epoque for artists desirous of having their talent recognized. A place of sociability where alliances were made consolidating the dynastic power of what Thomas Piketty would call “patrimonial capitalism,”[6] they were also in the avant-garde of the artistic scene. For a cosmopolitan aristocracy that spent its time between Paris, London, and Brussels, to promote arts and letters was one way of assuring the predominance of a social and cultural model. It was also a matter of distinguishing oneself and being spoken of; inviting a musician, writer, or artist, and supporting them by financing a spectacle or a concert, was one way of accomplishing this. Isadora, who understood this form of logical thinking, would benefit from it greatly. In London, she met the painter Charles Edward Hallé, who founded the New Gallery in 1888, where Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Movement works illustrated the cult of the beautiful, erected as a social ideal and as a real mode of living. Hallé had affection for the young American and organized several recitals for her, but her own way of introducing herself into the High Parisian society, the unavoidable worldly center of the epoch, mattered above all.

The year 1900 marked a turning point in the career of Isadora Duncan. London had dazzled her; Paris subjugated her. The Ville Lumière lived to the rhythms of the Universal Exposition where one of the pavilions, the Palais de la Danse, exhibited the living history of this art, from the religious dances of the East to those of the Renaissance to the luminous phantasmagorias of Loie Fuller. In her theater-museum, Loie Fuller invited her visitors to applaud the Japanese dancer Sada Yacco, celebrated by Judith Gautier and an inspiration for Isadora.[7] And then there was the discovery of the Louvre that Raymond and his sister visited regularly: “The Louvre was our paradise…we were two bizarre figures, so young and so absolutely absorbed in the Greek vases” (Life, 61). Hellenism continued to captivate them: the next year, when the family moved to 45, rue de Villiers, Raymond decorated the walls by painting Greek columns on them, and hanging up tin lamps. In the meantime, through Hallé’s introduction of Isadora to Charles Noufflard, who introduced her in turn to the painter Jacques Baugnies and the novelist André Beaunier, Isadora made a debut much remarked on in the musical salon of Marguerite de Saint-Marceaux, the mother of Baugnies. Braunier read some poems. Ravel played the piano. An exquisite ensemble, an ensemble of dream and poetry.[8] One invitation after another, and Isadora was soon performing at the homes of the greatest names of the aristocracy: rue d’Astorg, at the place of the Countess Greffulhe (the model for Proust’s Duchesse de Guermantes ) on the rue Cortambert, at the home of the Princesse de Polignac (born Winnaretta Singer), where Isadora’s Danses-Idylles were preceded by some words from Edmond de Polignac on Greek art, and again with the Duchesse of Uzès. Her appearances were noted in the social calendar of Le Figaro. On the rue de Villiers, she gave recitals and lessons, always accompanied on the piano by her mother. Auguste Rodin, Antoine Bourdelle, Georges Clémenceau, Mounet-Sully, Octave Mirbeau, Gabriel Fauré, and Anna de Noailles were among the guests. This success owed as much to Isadora’s talent as to her ability to promote it.

In this epoch, in fact, the young dancer was crystallizing the principles that had been guiding her research for years into a form of expression she would manage to make uniquely hers. Her innovative approach was marked first of all by her dancing barefoot. An antique-looking tunic, more or less short, often highly colored, was her costume. To be sure, the appearance of a partially naked boy on the stage was a surprise to elegant society, but the dancing of Isadora has nothing in common with that of a Mata Hari or an Adorée Villany, for whom nudity rhymed with eroticism. For Isadora, it was all about the classic nude. Furthermore, she was careful to underline in her memoirs that her American origins made her undertaking more spiritual than corporeal:

I was still a product of American Puritanism–whether due to the blood of my pioneer grandfather and grandmother, who crossed the Plains in a covered wagon in ’49, cutting their road through virgin forests over the Rocky Mountains and across the burning Plains (…) a Puritan, a mystic, and a striver after the heroic expression rather than any sensual expression (Life, 64).

And this same sort of exaltation forms the very ground of American art, for example, that of the poet Walt Whitman, celebrating America in his Leaves of Grass (1855). The other accessory marking the Duncanian aesthetic is a solid-color drapery–blue, blue-gray, or blue-green–as the only set. The absence of lighting added to this search for the design in which the worldly elite perceived a sign of the modernity it believed it had the mission of promoting. Duncan’s compositions, like Poiret’s creations of scientific film, were part of these innovations so fascinating to Parisians.[9]

Part of this excitement was the monochromatic curtain Isadora claimed to have invented, a claim disputed by the avant-garde scenic designer Gordon Craig. It was not just the sign of a certain avant-garde minimalism, but also an element of antique friezes in bas-relief. A frequent accessory in painting, it is also prevalent as a backdrop for the images of neoclassicism, associated with the floating drapery of the paintings of Frederic Leighton that Isadora must have seen during her London sojourn, perhaps in the New Gallery of Charles Edward Hallé. Besides, the Duncans’ fascination with Greek antiquity was widespread in the two last decades of the nineteenth century in both Europe (the restraint of the Olympiades in 1896 is an example of this) and the United States. The architectural reform of the City Beautiful movement was accompanied by a Dress Reform, advocating the abandon of the corset and any clothing impeding movement, in favor of more ample clothes like the antique tunic. At the same time, imitating the poses of Greek statues was seen as a way for women to improve their physical condition, inspired by an idealized spirituality. These séances of poses plastiques[10] were part of the teachings of Genevieve Stebbins, one of the precursors of modern dance on the other side of the Atlantic. It was common to see young women dressed in tunics doing physical exercise in the gardens and parks of the great American cities. Retracing the great lines of Duncan’s career in the pages of The New Yorker some months before her premature death in 1927, journalist Janet Flanner wrote:

The world over, and in America particularly, Greek sculpture was recognized to be almost notorious for its purity. The overpowering sentiment for Hellenic culture, even in the unschooled United States, silenced the outcries. Isadora had come as antique art and with such backing she became a cult.[11]

In the United States, between 1880 and 1890, the new passion for physical culture went along with the success of the method in France developed by François Delsarte thirty years before. Delsarte, a singing teacher, had instituted a program based on a system to coordinate the correspondences between physical movement and psychical action (seen as the trinitary organization of Life-Soul-Mind). According to this method, as Annie Suquet writes, movement expresses as much as it creates.[12] Duncan’s adolescence took place in the context of this Delsartist movement in a United States equally marked by the examples of the Turnverein (German gym circles) and Swedish gymnastics. From the Delsartist approach, she kept the element which would become the heart of her dance, that is, a particular attention to flexibility and the torso, where Delsarte situated the spiritual heart of the human body. Isadora would concentrate all of her movement research on the solar plexus, the impulse point for the relaxed and fluid motion of her gestures’ rhythmic structure.

I spent long days and nights in the studio seeking that dance which might be the divine expression of the human spirit through the medium of the body’s movement. For hours I would stand quite still, my two hands folded between my breasts, covering the solar plexus. My mother often became alarmed to see me remain for such long intervals quite motionless as if in a trance–but I was seeking, and finally discovered, the central spring of all movement (…) the centrifugal force reflecting the spirit’s vision (Life, 61-62).

The opposite of this interiorized intentionality, relating the dancer to the rhythm of a deep emotion, was, for Duncan, the classical ballet that she detested, rejecting at once tights, tutus, corsets, toe shoes deforming the feet, and abrupt gestures. The same thinking led her to reject mirrors. Classical dance was being revolutionized, no longer resembling that of the past century’s Carlotta Grisi, Marie Taglioni, and Fanny Elssler. Such a complete and non-nuanced rejection was meant to affirm a present novelty, in a radical rupture with the past. In the path of Loie Fuller and Ruth St. Denis, and despite the part that classical formation had played in her own training,[13] Duncan made her method the absolutely counterpoint to traditional ballet:

The ballet school taught the pupils that this spring was found in the center of the back at the base of the spine. From this axis, says the ballet master, arms, legs, and trunk must move freely, giving the result of an articulated puppet (Life, 61).

Liberating the torso not only permitted the renovation of plastic language, but situated the source of movement in a sound the dancer had to discover in herself. In all the artists inspired by Duncanian gesture, it’s perhaps Jules Grandjouan who best captured in some of his pastels these instants of interior intensity in which the dancer seems to gather up the echoes of a music issuing from inside and which, in other images, bursts outwards in lines at once energetic and harmonious, diffusing in space at the end of the hands with extended fingers. Flux and reflux of a motion whose naturalness and apparent spontaneity would elicit the admiration of the most knowledgeable spectators, like Rodin, who declared a few years later:

We love Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, and Nijinski so greatly because they have recovered the freedom of instinct and found again the meaning of a tradition founded on the respect of nature. From that comes their ability to express all the troubles of the human soul.[14]

For Duncan, harmony with nature went hand in hand with moral sincerity. Interpreting the movements of the soul, the dancer was in return elevated by dance:

The attitudes we take have an influence on our soul: a simple leaning of the head backwards accomplished with passion unleashes in us a Bacchic trembling of joy, of heroism, or of desire. All the gestures have therefore a moral significance and then can express all the different states of the soul.[15]

This profoundly romantic conception of the dancing body as an Aeolian harp is reflected in Isadora’s love of classical music. Her musical knowledge imparted by her mother permitted her to express a whole scale of emotions, As Elisabeth Schwartz, one of the Duncan experts in France, writes: “The third Moment Musicaux of Franz Schubert deals with the forgetful or unconcerned state. According to the waltzes, mazurkas, and polonaises of Frederic Chopin, she states her qualities of melancholy, joy, ardor, or reflection.”[16] It was not so obvious to accompany dance with concert music at that time. In going against conventions Isadora unleashed a polemic. It wasn’t only a question of interpreting music by dance nor of following it note by note, but of freely confronting the two arts without respecting the metronomic cadence. Her freedom of invention would win out: between 1905 and 1915, when she performed Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, Iphigénie en Tauride, and Orphée et Eurydice, accompanied by the chorus and the Colonne Orchestra, or the Orchestre Lamoureux, with Lugné-Poe or Gabriel Pierné conducting, the great tragedian Mounet-Sully applauded and all of Paris accorded her a triumph. Before that, she had also met Siegfried Wagner who introduced her to his mother, Cosima. Cosima proposed that she dance the Tannhäuser of the Bayreuth master.

This invitation had a special meaning for Isadora. At the end of her memoirs, she quotes Wagner as one of the three “masters” who presided over her training when she arrived in Europe: “I had three great masters, three great precursors of the dance in our century–Beethoven, Wagner, and Nietzsche. Beethoven created the dance in mighty rhythm, Wagner in sculptural form, Nietzsche in spirit. Nietzsche was the first dancing philosopher” (Life, 306). More than twenty years after Judith Gautier, here she is in 1904 in the Villa Wahnfried, where she visits the tomb of the musician: “After lunch Frau Wagner took my arm, and we walked out into the garden, around the tomb. It was a promenade in which Frau Wagner conversed in tones of sweet melancholy and mystic hope” (Life, 123). All the same, despite her youth and the admiration she had for the German composer, Isadora did not hesitate to tell Cosima that the unitary conception of the Wagnerian musical drama made no sense to her: “The speaking is the brain, the thinking man. The singing is the emotion. The dancing is the Dionysian ecstasy which carries away all. It is impossible to mix in any way one with the other!” (Life, 131). She could show herself so peremptory face to face with the intransigent guardian of the Wagnerian temple because her conception of the relation that links music and dance had affirmed itself in an original vision of rhythm, appearing in her first manifesto, Der Tanz der Zukunft (La Danse de l’avenir), published in Leipzig in 1903.

In 1902, after having given some recitals in Paris and Monte Carlo, Isadora left for Berlin at the invitation of Loie Fuller. Put off by the Sapphic customs reigning in the troop, she resigned instantly. Then she left for a tour of Berlin, Leipzig, Munich, Vienna, and Budapest, where she was received triumphantly, particularly by the studious youth, and then contracted an engagement with the impresario Alexander Gross. Always eager to learn, she read Schopenhauer, enthused by his vision of music as the incarnation of the essence of the world. Her choice of Wagner’s music was confirmed: “It is an offense artistically to dance to such music, but I have done by necessity, because this music is awakening the dance that was dead, awakening rhythm. I have danced to it, driven by it as a leaf is driven before the wind.”[17] The discovery of Nietzsche, for her “the first dancing philosopher” (Life, 306), had an even greater impact on her approach. Reading The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (1872) encouraged her to take her distance from Delsartism and to integrate a more urgent Dionysiac dimension into her dance. Inspired by the theme of the maenad or the bacchante, she tried from then on to move closer to a corporeal expression of measure and excess, harmony and discontinuity at once. In a letter to the Berliner Morgenpost, she answers a critic:

And I suggest that instead of asking them “Can Miss Duncan Dance?” you should have called their attention to a far more celebrated dancer–one who has been dancing in Berlin for years…the statue of the dancing Maenad in the Berlin Museum…she…has never tried to walk on the end of her toes. Neither has she spent time practicing leaps in the air to see how many times she could clap her heels together before coming down again. She wears neither corset nor tights, and her bare feet rest freely in her sandals.

I believe a prize has been offered to the sculptor who could replace the statue’s broken arms in their original position. I suggest it might be more useful, for art today, to offer a prize to whoever could reproduce in life the heavenly poise of her body and the secret beauty of her movement.[18]

To “discover ‘the dance of the future,’” Duncan declared in her 1903 lecture,we must first return to an archaic rhythm, with a power forgotten from a ritual signaling the belonging to the community of the human being. If we look for the true source of dance, and if we turn towards nature, we can see that the dance of the future is the dance of the past, the dance of eternity. That is the way it has been since the night of time and will never change.”[19]

This question of an original rhythm is inscribed in a bacchantist fin de siècle marked by the 1896 work of Maurice Emmanuel, La Danse grecque antique. Duncan was also influenced by Haeckel, whose works she found in translation in the British Museum and with whom she began to correspond. According to the monist vision of Haeckel, organic and inorganic matter, the mind and matter are linked inseparably. The human being is inscribed in an evolutionary chain that links the human being to the more archaic forms of life. Such a unitary conception of the living could not fail to seduce Isadora.

Nourished with such diverse inspirations, her art rejects any labels: “My dancing is not Greek, it is me!” she cries. Yet she did not hesitate for one second when, once Raymond had come back to Europe, the Duncan clan decided to leave for the homeland of Homer. This voyage took the form of a true spiritual pilgrimage: after having stopped in Missolonghi in memory of Byron, then revisited the verses of the Odyssey, the Duncans finally arrived in Athens where they climbed the steps of the Acropolis in a state near to mystical terror: “We each found our vantage point of worship and remained for hours in an ecstasy of meditation which left us all weak and shaken” (Life, 104). Raymond made a series of photographs showing Isadora, like a figure just come down from the frieze of the Pantheon, dancing in the Parthenon. Determined to stay in Greece, the family acquired a few acres of terrain on Mount Hymettus, and decided to build its own temple there, Kopamos, on the exact spot of Agamemnon’s palace. Garbed in togas and sandals, the Duncans took the first step in a ritual ceremony celebrated by a priest, sacrifice included, then they started the construction. Still with their Hellenic fervor, they also formed the idea of performing The Suppliants of Aeschylus on a libretto of Byzantine music. A bit distant from it, Isadora would be amused by this eclecticism: “We were so intent and convinced of these theories that it never occurred to us to realize the comic mélange of religious expression” (Life, 113). The role of the chorus was played by ten young Athenians who were auditioned for the occasion among the crowd of little boys who hurl themselves each evening on the slopes of Mount Hymettus, hoping to receive a fistful of drachmas in exchange for some traditional songs. The troop performed in front of the sovereign of Greece before leaving for a tour in Budapest and Berlin. After six months, though, extremely irritated by the behavior of the adolescents, the Duncans put an end to the adventure:

The climax of all came when the police authorities informed us that our Greek boys were surreptitiously escaping from the window at night; when we thought they were safely sleeping, they were frequenting cheap cafés and making the acquaintance of the lowest specimens of their compatriots which the city held…. We took them in taxis to the railroad station and, putting them all in second-class carriages, with a ticket for each to return to Athens, bade them a fond farewell. After their departure we put off the revival of the study of ancient Greek music to a later date, and I returned to the study of Christoph Gluck–Iphigenia and Orpheus (Life, 119).

If difficulties of all sorts complicated the sojourn of the Duncans in Greece (especially the lack of water and money which delayed and then halted the construction of Kopamos), the pedagogic and community experience they lived on the summit of Mount Hymettus marked them deeply. Raymond would opt to install himself definitively in Paris where he would teach dance, gymnastics, and Greek theater, and would also found a colony of artists, the Akademia, which sheltered for a time the young writer Kay Boyle. For almost a half-century, until his death in 1966, his lengthy silhouette, dressed in his usual costume of toga and sandals, would haunt the streets of Paris, and it was not rare to meet him in the travel tales of American writers and artists. As for Isadora, she would make her teaching one of the principal goals of her existence, founding three schools in three different countries.

The first one began in Berlin, in December 1904. Elizabeth would be its director, but Isadora was its soul. Installed in a villa in Grunewald, the New School of Dance was a real school of life which was set in a context favorable to pedagogic innovations, such as those of Maria Montessori or Rudolf Steiner. At the end of the century, the vast movement of Germanic Körperkultur (Body Culture) was partial to the experiments of Rudolf von Laban first in Munich, then in Monte Verità. A little later, curiosity about the new rhythmic practices encouraged the Swiss Émile Jaques-Dalcroze to found his school in Hellerau. In Grunewald, the students received general instruction, as well as courses in dance, music, and singing. The food was vegetarian and board was free. In exchange, the parents were expected to leave their children there until they were seventeen, and to authorize them to perform in Isadora’s spectacles. In a reaction to the education she’d received in grade school and contrary to the methods practiced in the ballet schools, she founded their apprenticeship on emulation, intuition, and empathy, placing della Robbia’s bas-reliefs and replicas of Donatello in the classrooms. “This is just the opposite from all the theories on which I founded my school, by which the body becomes transparent and is a medium for the mind and spirit” (Life, 143). The exercises Isadora and Elizabeth thus instituted were particular in that they weren’t working towards some end, but were an end in themselves, which was to make each day “complete and happy” (Life, 152). The children were encouraged to observe natural phenomena: the scudding of a cloud, the flight of a bird, the leaf’s cycle, the essential thing being to encourage them to place their soul in harmony with the great melodious flux of nature. It was in Grunewald, between 1904 and 1908, that the hard core of the New School of Dance formed, the six “Isadorables” (Anna Denzler, Maria-Theresa Kruger, Irma Erich-Grimme, Elizabeth Milker, Margot Jehle, and Erika Lohmann). They would accompany Isadora on her tours through Europe between 1905 and 1914, before taking officially the name of Duncan when the dancer adopted them in 1917. In 1913, Isadora founded her own school in Meudon, France, the Dionysion. It was installed in the Grand Hotel Bellevue, offered to her by her lover, the millionaire Paris Singer. At the beginning of the war, having taken refuge in the United States with her pupils, she tried by all possible means to raise enough money to create a school, but found a public more preoccupied by the new method of jazz than by artistic experimentations or the fate of Europe. After one performance in New York, no longer able to stand it, she angrily addressed the rich audience of the Century Opera House:

I want to build up my school in America. I want fifty boys and fifty girls to train and teach them the love of things beautiful…. I could build a school of about one quarter of what this hideous theater cost. Only the rich people here can make it possible for me. But the rich people of America are so criminally unintelligent that it seems there is nothing left for me to take the ship and emigrate.[20]

Suiting action to the word, Isadora and her pupils left for Europe and settled in Switzerland in 1915. In 1920, the Isadorables accompanied the dancer to Greece for a last trip, but only Irma would follow her to the USSR to found a new school in 1921.

A fervent pedagogue, a theoretician of dance, a well-informed lover of music, a curious mind interested in all the domains of knowledge, Isadora was also a sensual woman gifted with such an acute corporeal consciousness that she suffered neither restraints nor hypocrisy. In light of this, it is fortunate that the reprinting of her memoirs in 2013 restored those passages that were censored in the preceding editions. The artist speaks of several questions linked to her bodily existence with no false modesty, adopting an openly feminist point of view. From her first sexual experience of 1902, with a young Hungarian actor named Oscar Beregi: “I have to admit that my first impressions were a frightful fear and a horrible pain you must feel if someone pulls out all your teeth at the same time” (Life, 85). Some years later, pregnant from the British playwright and scenic designer Gordon Craig, she had to confront alone her pregnancy. Craig, who already had children from three different women, paid no attention to the new baby. On top of that, he reproached Isadora for wanting to pursue an artistic career instead of consecrating herself entirely to his own. As for Mary Duncan, who had endured without complaining all the wanderings of the Duncan clan, she was suddenly overcome with a strange case of puritanical morality, and remonstrating with this birth outside of the marriage rites, returned to the United States, leaving Isadora to give birth to her daughter Deirdre alone, in Holland:

I felt a thud, as if someone had pounded me in the middle of the back, and then a fearful pain, as if someone had put a gimlet into my spine and was trying to break it open. From that moment the torture began…. They say such suffering is soon forgotten. All I have to reply is that I have only to shut my eyes and I hear again my shrieks and groans as they were then, like something encircling me apart from myself (Life, 171).

Sexual embrace, solitary pleasure or, more surprising still perhaps, nursing, all provoked descriptions of delight:

Ah, but the baby! The baby was astonishing: formed like a Cupid, with blue eyes and long brown hair that afterwards fell out and gave place to golden curls. And, miracle of miracles, that mouth sought my breast and bit with toothless gums, and pulled and drank the milk that gushed forth. What mother has ever told the feeling when the babe’s mouth bites at her nipple, and the milk gushes from her breast? This cruel biting mouth, like the mouth of a lover, and our lover’s mouth, in turn, reminding us of the babe (Life, 172).

We see why Isadora would regret a posteriori not having yielded to Rodin during their first encounter, and we will certainly not think badly of such an existence marked by innumerable love affairs. Didn’t she declare: “Some people may be scandalized but I don’t understand why, if you have a body in which you are born to a certain amount of pain…why should you not, when the occasion presents, draws from this same body a maximum of pleasure?” (Life, 225). If certain men resisted her advances, such as Stanislavski, whom she met in Russia in 1908 and to whom she would remain nevertheless closely linked, others fell under her charm, such as Paris Singer, the father of her second child, Patrick, or the musician André Caplet, with whom she had a passionate affair during a sojourn in Devon in 1910. Without taboo but also without any frivolity, Isadora incarnated a liberated feminine desire, eminently free, as Jean Cocteau would remark, several years after her death:

Isadora! Let my dreaming stop a moment on her, worthy and admirable woman of those years, of those cities which escape the rules of good taste, shoving them aside and moving past them. She never batted an artistic eye and never stepped back. It was a question of living beyond the beautiful and the ugly, taking life up by the fistful and living it face to face, eye to eye.[21]

Grappling with existence: in the case of Isadora Duncan, the expression fits. Always in motion, she lit the torch of her art on all the stages of Europe, Russia, and the United States, where each of her appearances was an event. Just glancing at an abridged chronology might make us dizzy. In 1905, for example, she performed in Dresden, Hamburg, Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Brussels, Berlin, Leipzig, Stockholm, and Amsterdam. In 1908, she returned to Saint Petersburg, then went to London, New York, Boston, and Washington. The very opposite of the rich cosmopolitans depicted by Henry James or Edith Wharton, who drag their leisure and their boredom across the great cities of Europe, Isadora never stopped making fun of tourism and her memoirs contain no picturesque description of the places she traversed. So, in Florence, a trio of nymphs arises in a lively dance, the diaphanous material draping their naked body in subtle folds: “I thought ‘If I can find the secret of this picture, I may show others the way to richness of life and development of joy’” (Life, 95). Three years later, in Berlin, where her companion Gordon Craig had been invited by Eleonora Duse to create the décor of Ibsen’s play Rosmersholm, she only noticed how the English scenographer had arranged the scene which, by the geometric play of lines and planes, of colors and lights, created a symbolic space propitious for the revelation of the invisible:

Oh, how can I describe what appeared before our astonished, enraptured eyes? Did I speak of an Egyptian temple? No Egyptian temple has ever revealed such beauty. No Gothic cathedral, no Athenian palace. Never have I seen such a vision of loveliness. Through vast blue spaces, celestial harmonies, mounting lines, colossal heights, one’s soul was drawn toward the light of this great window which showed, beyond, no little avenue but the infinite universe (Life, 178).

We must not forget, however, that Isadora’s movements were also motivated by her incessant need of money. The dancer continued financing the activities of the Duncan clan, especially the schools and the working site of Kopamos. On top of that, money flew through her fingers. At the end of 1909, returning to Paris, she acquired, at 68, rue Chauveau, in Neuilly, the vast studio of the painter Gervex and installed her own studio there. The place had a magnificent garden with a pavilion Isadora reserved for her children. The studio resembled a Gothic chapel. Isadora hung large blue draperies there and rehearsed, accompanied by the faithful Hener Skene on the piano. Above it was a loggia decorated by Poiret: curtains and black rugs, gilded ornaments, oriental material, doors decorated with Etruscan themes, a real “cave of Circe” (Life, 231) she said. She was hostess to Gabriele d’Annunzio and played the seducer with him. All the artists and celebrities of Paris flocked to her dinners and parties. In the park, transformed into a tropical jungle or a garden of the Alhambra, champagne flowed. People danced to the sound of a gypsy orchestra. As Madame de Saint-Marceaux recounts, “The dancer is the toast of the capital: Isadora Duncan is one of ours. Original and charming, naïve and perhaps a bit wily, she pursues her dream and realizes it. Her success is colossal. Everyone speaks of her talent, the theater is full on the days when she dances. Berlin sends her away, Paris acclaims her after having disdained her.”[22] Wily, Isadora? Thinking of how she was able to impose her style on artistic modernism and assure herself of inexhaustible financial support by seducing the very, very rich Paris Singer, we might think so. However, the sincerity of her aesthetic ideas cannot be doubted.

After 1909, her dance took a more brutal turn. After the Danses-Idylles came La Danse des Furies to a melody of Wagner, and the Danses with her school. These compositions with their syncopated rhythms suggested rituals. Body up against body seemed agonistic, an intimate struggle with yourself. This expressive renovation responded to the innovations marking the world of dance at that period. On May 19, 1909, Isadora attended the first representation of the Ballets Russes at the Chatelet. The public raved over the costumes of Léon Bakst, Michel Fokine’s choreography, and the prodigious leaps of Vaslav Nijinsky. Three years later, they would perform the scandal of the Sacre du printemps. At the same moment, in Germany, Mary Wigman was working under Laban’s direction on a new form of expressionist dance that would give birth to Hexentanz (the Dance of the Sorcerer) in 1914. In Paris, Duncan never stopped fascinating artists. After Rodin, Dunoyer de Segonzac, and Josep Clarà, Antoine Bourdelle tried to seize the Duncanian gesture in a series of drawings in brown or violet ink which Élie Faure would remember later:

In a tenth of a second, the time it takes for the forms to pass in just a blink of the eye, the historical and immortal tragedy of the mind melds into these uninterrupted strokes and these hatchings that alternately hurl our emotion from the summits of plastic harmony to the abuses of a moral anxiety inseparable from the state of humanity.[23]

From 1910 to 1913, Bourdelle would be inspired by these drawings to compose the frescoes of the façade of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, where, he writes, “Isadora shocks against Isadora in the fury of the hymn or the abandon of the offering.”[24] The accidental deaths of Deirdre and Patrick, in April 1913, would enrich this ecstatic dance with a mystical dimension. Isadora, who had for some time been prey to forebodings and hallucinations, and who believed in telepathy, recounts her struggle, which says a great deal about her pain:

Sometimes I have a feeling that the dead do not go to a far country, nor do they hover about us invisible. I have the intuition that at the moment of death they penetrate–possess us–inhabit us, and if they are strong enough, subjugate us, or if not, we dominate them, keeping them in the cellar of our consciousness and only allowing them to come out on occasion (Life, 246).

Broken-spirited, she did not collapse. First she went to Albania, near Raymond, to help the refugees. Then she went back to Viareggio to stay near Duse for a while. In her memoirs, it isn’t a matter of her pain, but of her admiration for the one she calls a super being, and of the injustice of an end of life spent in forgetfulness and poverty. Back in Paris, she put all her energy into the opening of her school in Meudon, but the declaration of war a few months later marked the closing of the Bellevue, transformed into a military hospital. Some hours before the order of general mobilization, in August, she gave birth to a child who died. Profoundly depressed, she took refuge in Deauville before rejoining her friends in the United States.

That gave Isadora the occasion to embrace a new cause: on a tour of her native country, she campaigned for the U.S. to enter the war with the Allies. As was her habit, she used the stage as a tribune from which to harangue the spectators directly and made herself available after her performances for press interviews. She also had the habit of closing her spectacles by dancing La Marseillaise, as a photograph of Arnold Genthe bears witness. Red becomes her fetish color. The chill of the American public’s welcome for the revolutionary fervor of Isadora was only equaled by its enthusiasm for the foxtrot and the jazz that she judged profoundly barbaric and unaesthetic. This sojourn only distanced her further from her native land and the visits that followed at the beginning of the ’20s would simply consummate a divorce already commenced. Leaving Irma Duncan in Russia to take care of the school, Isadora left on a tour in the company of the poet Sergei Yesenin, about twenty years her junior, whom she married in May of 1922 (to permit him to leave the USSR, she would say). The couple traveled in Germany and France before leaving for the United States for a disastrous tour across the country. Yesenin suffered from depression and drank to excess. He also became violent and the trip was studded with incidents and scandals. Isadora abounded in denials to the press. But her frankness played her some evil turns. In Boston, her speech at the end of a spectacle led to the cancellation of all the following performances. In January of 1923, there was a declaration published in The American Weekly, a Sunday supplement of the Hearst group:

Routine, weary routine, the same old table in the middle of the same old floor, the same old books on the same old table–that’s America. But I will predict. I have seen the Russian revolutionists in Moscow standing in the street, some so poor that their feet are done up in newspapers, for lack of shoes…. I have seen you workers parade, also, down Fifth Avenue…. I see in these downtrodden ones the promise of America.[25]

The couple’s difficulties continued in France, where Yesenin had to be hospitalized in a psychiatric institution before being expelled. Isadora continued to perform in programs inspired by the music of Franck, Scriabin, and Tchaikovsky. Slower, less svelte, less graceful, she incited few kind commentaries from the critics. In December of 1925, the news of the suicide of Yesenin, from whom she had separated a few months ealier, caused her a violent cramp. In a telegram to the press, dated January 1926, she refutes nevertheless the rumor of divorce and weeps: “The news of the tragic death of Yesenin has caused me the deepest pain. He had youth, beauty, genius. Not content with all these gifts, his audacious spirit sought the unattainable, and he wished to lay low the Philistines.”[26] From then on, she divided her time between Paris and Nice, living on a pension given her by her brother Augustin. Financial difficulties forced her to accept the editing of her memoirs, which stop at the eve of her departure for the USSR in 1921. In July 1927, Duncan was still able to fill the Théâtre Mogador by dancing to music by Wagner and Schubert, accompanied by the Pasdeloup Orchestra, under the direction of Albert Wolff. Then, suddenly, the tragic end, a scarcely imaginable violence:

Last night, Isadora Duncan left in a racing car for a ride. But the scarf she was wearing around her neck, and which at first was floating behind her, suddenly caught and coiled up in the back wheel. Without being able to call or make a gesture, Isadora was gripped so violently that she died almost immediately, strangled. But the scarf still dragging her, her body fell over and finally ended up on the Promenade des Anglais. She was picked up totally mangled, covered with dust and blood.[27]

But Isadora had entered into legend. As Janet Flanner wrote several months before her death, “if her artistic genius is anything except American, that is true also of her genius for greatness.”[28] The product of an untiring invention of the self, she incarnated then, as today, the oxymoron of an archaic modernity. Unable to know exactly what her dances looked like, we can hear her words, gathered by others thanks to the medium of writing. What does she tell us? First of all, the refusal of unhealthy introspection or resentment. If some use the autobiographical genre to revenge themselves on their contemporaries, it is certainly not the case for Isadora, she who was uniquely preoccupied with rendering justice to the talent and the greatness of soul of the artists she came across. As for this America, about which she was so often in despair and that she had so often abused, it remained for her an ideal in which she wanted to believe to the end. Just as Walt Whitman had shouted, “I hear America singing,” she affirmed in her turn “I see America dancing,” placing in her art and in her country, finally reconciled, the hope for an advanced form of democracy. Besides, if her story contains a few inexactitudes of date (such as when she claims to have arrived in Saint Petersburg, the tragic Red Sunday that marked the beginning of the 1905 revolution), and betrays a slight tendency to make reality a bit brighter, all the commentators are in agreement in saying that such a tendency is less the mark of a fraudulent spirit than that of “a creationist tale–geographical, biological, mythological–and the tale is forged by an imagination that works kinetically, in cognitive leaps that make airborne connections: exaggerated, yes, but always coherent.”[29] Through her memoirs, Isadora Duncan continues to invite us to believe in the future as in a piece of good news.



[1] In 1903, Isadora Duncan gave a lecture in Berlin titled “The Dance of the Future,” which was published as a pamphlet (in German and English) with the title Der Tanz Der Zukunft (Karl Federn (ed.), Leipzig: Eugen Diederichs, 1903) and then was reproduced in The Dance (New York: The Forest Press, 1909: 21).

[2] Duncan, Isadora. La Danse de l’avenir. Texts chosen and translated by Sonia Schoonejans. Followed by Faure, Élie, Colette, and Levinson, André. Regards sur Isadora Duncan. Preface by Yannick Ripa. Brussels: Éditions Complexe, 2003: 55.

[3] Grandjouan, Jules.”La rythmique et la danse.” L’Art en mouvement 3 Février 1920.

[4] My Life was published in December 1927 by Boni & Liveright, New York. Many passages, judged shocking in the French translation by Jean Allary, were published in 1928 by Gallimard with the title Ma Vie.

[5] Duncan, Isadora. My Life. Introduction by Joan Acocella, preface by Dorée Duncan. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W. W. Norton & Company, 2013: 2. From now on, references to this work will be indicated by in-text parenthetical citation using the title Life and the page number.

[6] Piketty, Thomas. Le Capital au XXIe siècle. Paris: Seuil, 2013.

As defined by Piketty, “patrimonial capitalism” means that the economic elite mostly attain their fortunes through inheritance rather than entrepreneurship or innovation.

[7] Gautier, Judith. La Musique japonaise: les danses de Sada-Yacco. Paris: Librairie Paul Ollendorff, 1900.

[8] de Saint-Marceaux, Marguerite. Journal 1894-1927. Edited under the direction of Myriam Chimènes, preface by Michelle Perrot. Paris: Fayard, 2007. Entry of January 15, 1901.

[9] See My Life, 157: “Vous êtes merveilleuse! Mais pourquoi avoir volé mes idées? Ce sont mes décors et mes idées!”

You’re marvellous!” he exclaimed. “You are wonderful! But why have you stolen my ideas. Where did you get my scenery?

What are you talking about? These are my own blue curtains. I invented them when I was five years old and I have danced before them ever since!

[10] See Anae, Nicole. “Poses Plastiques: The Art and Style of ‘Statuary’ in Victorian Visual Theatre.” Australasian Drama Studies 52 (April 2008): 112-30.

“Specialists of a Victorian performance style known as ‘poses plastiques’ mastered the art of manipulating the body into highly stylised and apparently motionless ‘attitudes’ to resemble so-called ‘living statues’. Most favoured adopting Classical stances in the garb of Greek and Roman deities, and a number of its female technicians titillated audiences with costumes giving the appearance of almost complete nudity.”

[11] Flanner, Janet. “Isadora.” The New Yorker January 1, 1927: n.p.

[12] Suquet, Annie. L’Éveil des modernités. Une histoire culturelle de la danse (1870-1945). Pantin: Centre national de la danse, 2012: 143-55.

[13] Between 1895 and 1898, in New York, Duncan practiced traditional ballet with the ballet master of the company of Augustin Daly, Carl Marwig. At the same time, she also took lessons with the Italian ballerina Maria Bonfanti.

[14] Rodin, Auguste. “La Rénovation de la Danse: Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Nijinski.” Le Matin May 31, 1912: 1.

[15] Duncan, Isadora. “La danse et la nature.” Écrits sur la danse. Paris: Éditions du Grenier, 1927.

[16] Schwartz, Elisabeth. “Isadora Duncan, chorégraphe pionnière et la transmission de sa danse,” Isadora Duncan. Une sculpture vivante. Paris: Musée Bourdelle, 2009: 41.

[17] Duncan, Isadora. “La Danse des Grecs.” Musica-Noël December 1912. Reprinted in La Danse de l’avenir: 49.

[18] Duncan, Isadora. “The Secret Beauty of Her Movement: Letter to the Berliner Morgenpost” (1903). Collected in Isadora Speaks: Writings & Speeches of Isadora Duncan, edited and introduced by Franklin Rosemont. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1994: 34. From Berlin, Isadora had brought back a statue of the Dancing Maenad that she would place in her Paris school, Le Dionysion.

[19] Duncan, Isadora. The Dance. New York: The Forest Press, 1909: 21.

[20] Duncan, Isadora. “What is There Left?” Isadora Speaks: 39-40.

[21] Cocteau, Jean. Portraits-souvenir. Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1935, 2003: 110.

[22] de Saint-Marceaux, Marguerite. Journal 1894-1927. Edited under the direction of Myriam Chimènes, preface by Michelle Perrot. Paris: Fayard, 2007. Entry dated February 5, 1909.

[23] Faure, Élie. L’Homme et la Danse. Périgueux: Pierre Fanlac, 1975.

[24] Bourdelle, Antoine. Cours et leçon à l’Académie de la Grande-Chaumière, t. II/Leçons (1909-1922). Paris: Paris-Musées/Éditions des Cendres, 2007: 88. See also: Lemoine, Colin. “Le ballet et la bacchanale, la danse dans l’œuvre d’Antoine Bourdelle.” Isadora Duncan. Une sculpture vivante: 106-110.

[25] Duncan, Isadora. “America Makes Me Sick!” The American Weekly January 1923. Isadora Speaks: 129-136.

[26] Duncan, Isadora. Isadora Speaks: 103.

[27] “Tragic death of the dancer Isadora Duncan.” Le Petit Parisien September 15, 1927.

[28] Flanner, Janet. “Isadora.” The New Yorker January 1, 1927: 18.

[29] Jacobs, Laura. “To the Great God Pan.” London Review of Books October 24, 2013: 13-15.


Anne Reynes-Delobel

Anne Reynes-Delobel is an assistant professor at Aix Marseille Univ, Aix-en-Provence, France. With Mary Ann Caws, she co-authored Glorieuses modernistes: Art, écriture et modernité au féminin (Presses Universitaires de Liège, 2016).

Mary Ann Caws

Mary Ann Caws is a translator of French poetry; the editor of the Yale Anthology of Twentieth-Century French Poetry, Surrealist Love Poems, and Surrealist Painters and Poets; the author of The Surrealist Look, Surprised in Translation, the Modern Art Cookbook, brief biographies of Henry James, Proust, Woolf, Picasso, Dali, and Pascal, and catalogues on André Masson, Robert Motherwell, Unica Zurn, the rue Blomet, and Kay Sage. She has held Guggenheim, Fulbright, Rockefeller, and Getty Fellowships, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

"Isadora: Danser sa vie" in Glorieuses modernistes: Art, écriture et modernité au féminin. Copyright (c) Presses Universitaires de Liège, 2016. English translation copyright (c) Mary Ann Caws, 2016.