Exhibiting Historical Art: Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things

Ida Rubenstein Sculpture, 1909

Ida Rubenstein

Jo Davidson (1883-1952)

Paris, France



The American sculptor Jo Davidson depicts the Russian dancer Ida Rubenstein in her role as Cleopatra in Michael Fokine’s ballet, performed in the first Paris season of Sergey Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in 1909. Davidson sculpted this piece while studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Although it was not a commissioned work, it did attract the attention of future clients including Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.


Straying from his usual posed portrait busts, Davidson captures Rubinstein’s presence on the stage. Rubenstein was not known for her technical skill, but rather her expressive nature and her ability to amplify the choreography.  Audience members were transported back in time and were able to experience the drama first hand. Davidson’s mastery in recreating Rubenstein with the same amount of intensity that she emitted on stage can also be found in his other works. He would not have his subject pose, but rather get to know them to be able to represent who they are in addition to what they look like. Although most of his pieces emphasized life-like, intense realism, in his representation of Ida Rubenstein, he prioritized her stage presence above accurate depiction.


Lilia Briskin, ’19

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