Max Slevogt - Portrait of the dancer Marietta di Rigardo

by John Hinnerk Pahl


In a proud upright posture and with outstretched arms, the dancer Marietta di Rigardo writhes on a large oriental carpet to the beat of the music. A three-piece band plays in the background on the right. The tight-fitting dress embraces the feminine forms of her body. Her face appears austere and dignified. The painter Max Slevogt had only been living in Berlin for three years at that time and was immediately enthusiastic about the lively culture in the capital. While his art was still causing scandals in Munich, where he had studied, he hit just the right nerve in the cosmopolitan metropolis. At the ninth exhibition of the Berlin Secession, Slevogt achieved his breakthrough with this painting. He was now a celebrated star. The fleetingness of the painterly expression belies the fact that the artist had at least eight oil studies precede the large-scale work in order to create the desired impression. It is in the nervous swirl of the train that the sweeping movement of the dancer's body is most readily apparent; her face, in contrast, is precisely rendered. In a whole series of sketches Slevogt had dealt with the depiction of dance movements during his time in Berlin. On his forays through theaters, opera houses, and cabarets, he was particularly captivated by Marietta di Rigardo, a native of Manila whose real name was Marietta Trinidad de la Rosa. At that time, she performed in the cabaret "Zum siebten Himmel" and thrilled the audience with her flamenco.

In turn-of-the-century Berlin, it had become common for painters, theater makers and actors to enter into an extremely fruitful symbiosis, with artists such as Edvard Munch and Lovis Corinth designing sets and costumes. Slevogt, himself a gifted singer and piano player, enjoyed socializing in these circles. Dance and music fired his artistic imagination. In the flickering of the rhythmically moving color impressions of the dress, one can almost feel the space and body pervading sound of the music. The presence of the dancer is further enhanced by the blue-yellow complementary contrast of her dress against the background of the painting in brown and ocher tones.


The Berlin gallery owner Paul Cassirer promoted Max Slevogt together with Lovis Corinth and Max Liebermann under the slogan "Triumvirate of German Impressionism". Starting from his Munich education under the oppressive dominance of the academy professor Franz Lenbach, who led Titian, Rubens or Velázquez into the field against impressionist tendencies, Slevogt devoted himself to the latter - especially after his departure to Berlin. In the portrait of Marietta di Rigardo, however, the suggestion of the momentary through a fleeting brushstroke is withdrawn in favor of the fine modeling of the dignified facial expression, as was customary for his portraits. In the years that followed, Slevogt painted several more dancers, including Anna Pavlova and Tilla Durieux.


Max Slevogt - Portrait of the dancer Marietta di Rigardo

Oil on canvas, 1904, 229 x 180 cm, Galerie Neue Meister in Dresden

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