SÈVRES PORCELAIN FACTORY, Sèvres (manufacturer)<br />
 Agathon LÉONARD (modeller)<br/>
<em>Dancer with musical pipes on pedestal, from The Scarf Dance table centrepiece, model no. 8</em> 1898 {modelled}; (1923) {manufactured} <!-- (front) --><br />
<em>(Danseuse aux pipeaux, from the table centrepiece Le Jeu de L’Écharpe)</em><br />
porcelain (biscuit, hard paste), brass<br />
(a-d) 64.9 x 25.3 cm diameter (overall)<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Gift of Krystyna Campbell-Pretty AM and Family through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program, 2021<br />
2021.540.a-d<br />


Sèvres Porcelain Factory Eleven figures from The Scarf Dance, table centrepiece (Le Jeu de l’Écharpe)


The Scarf Dance (Le Jeu de l’Écharpe) series of porcelain figures by the Sèvres manufactory has become one of the most iconic expressions of the Art Nouveau style, embodying the principles of organic form and movement and the representation of the now liberated female form. It comprises fifteen figures of women dressed in flowing garments and dancing with scarves and musical instruments. The central figure of the horn player on the pedestal directs the dance and the figures are framed by a pair of statuesque torch bearers, also on pedestals, who oversee the dance.

The series was initially created in terracotta in 1897 by the sculptor Agathon Léonard as part of a decorative concept for the foyer of a dance hall. Alexandre Sandier, the Artistic Director at Sèvres, viewed the figures at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and commissioned their production by Sèvres in biscuit (unglazed) porcelain. Their production represented the first works in the Art Nouveau style for the manufactory. The series was exhibited for the first time as a table centrepiece in the Sèvres pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition in 1900. It was considered a sensation at the exhibition and the factory was awarded a Grand Prix medal. Due to its success, the French state offered this first production as a diplomatic gift to Tsar Nicolas II and his wife Alexandra Fedovorna, Emperor and Empress of Russia. The series is now in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg and is one of the few complete sets in existence.

Following the Exhibition, the series was put into production in two different sizes. The original size, or première grandeur (first size), was 57.0 cm high and a smaller size, the deuxième grandeur (second size), was produced at 38.0 cm high. Between 1901 and 1923 fifty-nine examples of each size were executed and collectors had the choice of acquiring the complete series or individual figures. The pedestals were also sold at the manufactory. Today, complete sets are known to exist in the French Embassy in Prague; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Museum for Arts and Crafts, Hamburg; and the Musée National de Céramique at Sèvres.

The concept for the The Scarf Dance was most likely inspired by the performances of the American dancer and choreographer Loïe Fuller, one of the most celebrated dancers in Paris during the late 1890s and early 1900s. Fuller became famous for her performances dressed in swathes of diaphanous silk that she swirled with batons, entrancing audiences through her innovative use of mirrors and coloured glass slides, which were projected onto her robes to create colourful, ethereal effects. Fuller became so celebrated that she was given her own theatre at the Paris International Exhibition of 1900. She epitomised the exotic, sensuous woman that embodied the Art Nouveau style, which came to its height at the 1900 Exhibition. The figures from The Scarf Dance emulate Fuller’s beguiling performances and are dynamic studies in movement and drapery. While each individual has a distinctive character and pose, the whole ensemble possesses a rhythm and harmony that contributes to the unity of the whole.

Amanda Dunsmore, Senior Curator, International Decorative Arts and Antiquities, National Gallery of Victoria