18 April 2011

Nijinsky: the Golden Slave

copyright (c) 2010, Sharon Edmunds
Nijinksy: The Golden Slave, Acrylic/MM on Canvas, 20" x 16"

Vaslav Nijinsky: in costume as the Golden Slave, from the ballet 'Scheherazade'. He performed this Classical Ballet, choreographed by Fokine, with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1911. Parisians called him "The God of Dance". The West had never seen a dancer like him. This was at a time when Ballet was all about the Ballerina.

Nijinsky was born in Kiev, in 1889. His parents were both dancers from Poland, of Tatar decent. His father left the family when Nijinsky was eight years old. When he was nine, his mother moved to Saint-Petersburg and he started to study at the famous Imperial Theatrical School. He was a shy, introverted child, considered strange looking and exotic by both classmates and teachers. Academically, he was not a good student. He was taunted and called names. However, it was soon understood that he was an incredibly gifted dancer. His performances as a student were reviewed by the press. He graduated from school at the age of eighteen and immediately became a dancer with the Imperial Ballet - later named the Kirov Ballet and today, renamed the Mariinsky Ballet. The Prima Ballerina of the Imperial Ballet, Mathilda Kschessinska, knew that he was not only a great dancer, but also an amazing actor and would request Nijinsky as her partner. At the age of twenty, he met Diaghilev. The rest is history.

A history of celebratory highs and overwhelming lows. As a dancer, Nijinsky is a legend. As a choreographer, he was not well received in his lifetime. He was a visionary. Now it is understood that his work led the way towards the beginnings of Modern Dance. By the age of 29, his career was over. He would leave a diary of four notebooks, written by him in the six weeks prior to his being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It would take many years for this diary to be published* in it's original form, including all four notebooks. It is his last heartbreaking statement to the world.


(*The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky (Unexpurgated Edition) Translated From The Russian by Kyril Fitzlyon, Edited By Joan Acocella, First Published in the United States (c) 1999 by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.)


  1. Very interesting post,enjoyed it.
    Hugs, Amy

  2. I really like how you kept large shapes in this portrait--nice sculptural look to it. Boy, you know lots of Russian culture!

  3. I agree with Stephanie. Nice scultural look, nice blue. The serie grows.

  4. Hello Amy, Stephanie, & Eric! Thank you so much for your comments. This portrait wanted so much to be painted, that it almost painted itself! (So Nijinsky!) It was really a personal pleasure to work on this. Nijinsky has always intrigued me, his life, and how he took ballet from the Classical Ballet form into Modernism. His L'Apres-Midi d'un Faun (The Afternoon of a Faun) is genius. Also, this is the moment when Picasso, Matisse, & Chagall start designing sets and costumes for the Ballets Russes. Yeah, the series grows! "Nureyev's World" is LARGE.

  5. This is a fantastic portrait Sharon!
    I admire your knowlege of Russian culture!

  6. Thank you, Elena and Russ. One day recently, I started to think about all the brilliant people just connected to Sankt-Peterburg in the last 150 years. The greatest musicians, dancers, choreographers, writers and artists...the names went on and on and on. The truth and beauty that these souls created and shared with the world...I wept.

  7. Sharon
    Do yourself a favour (favor) - try Mozilla Firefox as a Browser. FIREFOX. It really is far, far better than Chrome, or IE9! (Plus it's page elements are wider)

    BTW - I really do like this painting of the Golden Slave. I feel the pain and suffering, the humiliation, the frustration and, unfortunately, the acceptance of her role in life. Oh, to have such talent as to produce that on canvas!

    Your friend in OZ

  8. Very intriguing posts and paintings on the ballet. I look forward to these, if you are doing more.

  9. Hello Roberto, I will take your advice. Thank you. I am so unhappy with both IE (now) and Chrome (always seemed "awkward" to me). Smiling at the favour (favor) reference...we were obviously the British Colonies that couldn't spell!

    And thank you for your beautiful comments about this painting, friend!

  10. Casey, Thank you for the nice words, glad you stopped by and happy you enjoy the work. Come back, it is a LARGE ongoing series!

    I always enjoy your posts and your point of view.

  11. Sharon - I got a reply from one of the Chrome Help Forum TCs, in reference to the 'Warnings'. Apparently, - "...All it means is that not all of the content you're viewing on that page is provided over https."
    Still makes me wonder why, though. Mmm? Nah. Not me.
    Firefox, or IE - all the way!

  12. Hello Bob! Thank you for your follow-up info. I really appreciate it. I agree with you.