Today I made a big discovery. It was someone's true identity...
It all started when I had borrowed a lovely cast which I ended up drawing four times. It was the face of a delicate, graceful woman...not too young, nor too old. As I traced over her features in my mind - and sometimes with my fingers - and worked on transcribing them to paper, I began to wonder who this person had been. Upon asking I found out that she had been dubbed "The Countess." Her features certainly spoke of a certain elan and dignity. It was not hard to believe that she was titled.
Even so, it was not enough. Soon armed with the name of the company in Chicago that had sold her to her owner, I found out that her official name in their old catalogue was "The Unknown." Ah..."Unknown." Perhaps poor and penniless, her body had been washed up on the banks of a river or an illness had taken her life, but she had been pretty enough to have her death mask made for distribution to aspiring artists.
But then, I didn't like the idea of a death mask. Rather I made her a poor but willing person who had to make a few dollars, and patiently sat while her mask was being made for sale to art schools.
Without the facts, these were my conjectures until a few days ago. That was when the owner of the cast said excitedly, "I think we have a lead!" A classical musician friend of his, a man acquainted with culture and the arts, had seen the plaster cast and announced that he thought it was Anna Pavlova!
Anna Pavlova! She was the famous ballerina who performed for audiences in the early 1900s. Her most famous piece was The Dying Swan from Swan Lake. It had been choreographed specifically for her in 1905 to Le Cygne from The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns.
"In 1931, she contracted pneumonia while touring in The Hague, Netherlands. Holding her costume from the Dying Swan, she said her last words; "Play the last measure very softly." She died, on 22 January 1931, in the Hotel Des Indes, in The Hague. On the day she was to have next performed, the lights dimmed, the curtain rose, and while the orchestra played Saint-Saëns, a spotlight moved around the empty stage searching in the places where Anna Pavlova would have danced."*
Victor Frisch . Head of Anna Pavlova
Bronze on marble base, ca. 1920
Another life cast of Anna in tinted wax was made by artist Malvina Cornell Hoffman. She is the fantastic sculptor who created the ethnic sculptures at Chicago's Museum of Natural History.
Anna's death mask is displayed at the White Lodge Museum and Ballet Resource Centre, the home of The Royal Ballet Lower School (shown along with Margot Fonteyn’s ballet shoe).
It feels very different now when I see my cast drawings. I know who this person is...or rather, was. The knowledge of her name has changed everything...
Also see this photo: http://gallery.ejwassoc.com/main.php?g2_itemId=339