Ida Lvovna Rubinstein (1880–1960): Ballet dancer. Studied under Alexander Lensky and Mikhail Fokine. Danced in Sergei Diaghilev’s first two Saisons Russes in Paris. Founded her own company (1928–35).
Painted a year before the artist’s untimely death, Valentin Serov’s portrait of Ida Rubinstein is an outstanding example of Style Moderne (Russian Art Nouveau). The stylistics of the work are dictated by the sitter’s character and physical appearance. Russian ballet dancer Ida Rubinstein was famed for her performances in Sergei Diaghilev’s productions of Cléopâtre and Schéhérazade in Paris. The dancer’s figure and style of dancing seemed to transport the viewer back to ancient times. Valentin Serov exclaimed: “Every move she makes is monumental; an archaic bas-relief come to life.” The picture was painted in Paris in the summer of 1910. Rubinstein posed naked, like the patricians who posed for Titian. The master likened his heroine to an Assyrian relief, flattening the forms of her body and outlining them with an expressive contour. The sharp silhouette and the refined spicy tones intensify the psychological characteristics. Serov depicts Rubinstein wearing the tragic expression of her eyes and mouth that he called her “wounded-lioness look”. The allusions to the volumes of the face, shoulders and legs are masterful. The game of contrasts between psychologism and decoration, three-dimensionality and flatness, asceticism and acerbity, was typical of Art Nouveau painting.