First published: Fall 2016
For a short time, from 1918–19, not long before mental illness completely overtook his life, Vaslav Nijinsky (1889/90–1950) created a group of drawings and paintings. In contrast to the volumes written about Nijinsky as ballet dancer and choreographer, there has been very little consideration given to these works.
The Nijinsky paintings and drawings are intimate in scale: the paper whose surface he worked over was no larger than 11.8 x 14.6 ins. / 30 x 37 cm. Although the proportions are modest, the images are powerful. It can be a challenge to remember that these works are almost 100 years old, since they appear both current and timeless.
Untitled, watercolour or coloured pencil on paper, 1918-19, approx 11.8 x 15 ins. /30 x 37 cm, courtesy Foundation John Neumeier, Hamburg
Nijinsky used ink, crayon, pencil and paper as mediums. The crayon and pencil drawings have a geometry defined by circles. These works are obsessive and hyper-focused. When he used ink on the page, emotions define the picture plane, as well as revealing a sense of spontaneity.
Viewing only one or two of these pieces, particularly the drawings, gives the impression that Nijinsky may have simply been exploring a decorative geometry. But when exposed to a larger group, the obsessive nature of Nijinsky’s drive is evident. Variations and themes, applied with line, energise each page. A sense of urgency emerges, as if the artist felt compelled to explore every possible configuration of one simple concept.