To celebrate our 250th birthday, we’re highlighting 250 beautiful, odd and inspiring objects from the RA Collection in 25 themes. In this edition we put on our dancing shoes to tap, twirl and stomp our way from antiquity to today.
This watercolour by David Remfry is one of a large series of works depicting dancers started in 1985. Remfry has long been interested in dance – initially painting ballerinas practicing at dance school, though he has since turned to the untrained and joyous "ordinary" people seen in works such as this one.
This enthusiastic dancer can be found in a dance treatise by Italian dance master Cesare Negri (1536-1604). Negri is thought to have been the first to expound the theory of the "five basic positions" of ballet. This engraving belongs to a section of the manual which explains the dance known as the galliard (the most virtuosic dance of the late Renaissance) and its variations.
Much of the sculptor John Gibson's work was concerned with capturing movement in drawn or sculpted form, whether his figures were travelling, falling or dancing. This pen and ink drawing is part of the extensive holdings of Gibson's work in the RA Collection.
Salome's dance for King Herod (as told in the Bible's New Testament) so impressed the king that he promised to give Salome whatever she asked for. At her mother's prompting, Salome requested the head of John the Baptist on a plate. This engraving is based on one of a series of frescoes depicting episodes from the life of John the Baptist, at the Chiostro dello Scalzo in Florence.
This sculpture exemplifies the artist's interest in depicting "ideal" forms. The original model for this design was probably his wife Florence (1873-1969), a successful Australian soprano. The Woods often held musical evenings (Francis played the flute) attended by guests including fellow artists Walter Sickert, Augustus John and the writer D.H. Lawrence.
This is one of 781 plates in Eadweard Muybridge's 'Animal Locomotion' (1884-7), a compendium of animal and human movements. Muybridge's sequences of photographs captured movement with unprecedented accuracy – he famously proved for the first time that a horse lifts all four hooves off of the ground in the act of galloping.
This is one of a series of studies the British artist made of a dancer called Ma Seyn-Mé from Myanmar (then Burma), when the country was under his country's colonial rule. The series played into Britain's exotic fantasies of faraway colonial life and so were very popular back home. Kelly pursued Ma Seyn-Mé for three months, communicating with her via an interpreter. He later recalled their "very lively sittings" and how he "used to go – rather a gate-crasher – to any dance where she was performing."
This drawing is a study for two dancing figures in Sir David Wilkie's painting 'The Penny Wedding', which he painted at the request of the Prince Regent. The painting (which shows these figures in reverse) shows the celebrations following a "penny wedding", a ceremony then common in Scotland at which guests paid a penny each towards the wedding, with any remaining money going towards the couple's new home.
This is a cast of a famous Roman statue which has been in the Uffizi gallery in Florence since the late 17th century. After the German poet Goethe saw a cast of the work, he wrote of the impact made on him by the figure "dancing for joy, clashing his cymbals". The RA's cast is currently on display in the Vaults, opposite a cast of the 'Venus de' Medici', another celebrated antique statue in the Uffizi.
Harriet Lassalle was a regular exhibitor at the RA's Summer Exhibition during the 1980s. In 1982 she exhibited three 'Disco Dancing' paintings – this one was acquired by the RA after the show.
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