Loïe Fuller, the embodiment of Symbolism on the stage

Loïe Fuller, the embodiment of Symbolism on the stage

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  • Folies Bergères. Every evening the Loïe Fuller.

    PAL Jean from (1860 - 1942)

  • Loïe Fuller in the Dance of the Lily.

    ELLIS Harry C. (1857)

  • Loïe Fuller dancing with her veil.

    TABER Isaiah West (1830 - 1912)

  • Loïe Fuller and her students in front of the sphinx in Cairo.

    ELLIS Harry C. (1857)

Folies Bergères. Every evening the Loïe Fuller.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

To close

Title: Loïe Fuller in the Dance of the Lily.

Author : ELLIS Harry C. (1857 -)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 18.4 - Width 22.6

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved website

Picture reference: 87-001110-02 / PHO1984-18-2

Loïe Fuller in the Dance of the Lily.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

To close

Title: Loïe Fuller dancing with her veil.

Author : TABER Isaiah West (1830 - 1912)

Creation date : 1897

Date shown: 1897

Dimensions: Height 16.7 - Width 11.3

Technique and other indications: Direct positive test.

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Bellot website

Picture reference: 94-018136-02 / PHO1984-18-4

Loïe Fuller dancing with her veil.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Bellot

To close

Title: Loïe Fuller and her students in front of the sphinx in Cairo.

Author : ELLIS Harry C. (1857 -)

Creation date : 1914

Date shown: 1914

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Direct positive test.

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Bellot website

Picture reference: 94-018132 / PHO1984-18-25

Loïe Fuller and her students in front of the sphinx in Cairo.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Bellot

Publication date: March 2016

Agrégée in Italian, Doctorate in Contemporary History at the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines

Historical context

The "electricity fairy" of the Belle Époque

The myth of Paris "City of Light" is inseparable from the "electricity fairy" Loïe Fuller, an artist emblematic of the climate of enthusiasm for scientific, technological and social progress that marked the Belle Époque and celebrated by the ballet Excelsior (1881) by Marenco and Manzotti.

Born in a village in Illinois in 1862, Mary Louise Fuller, known as Loïe, debuted in amateur theater at the age of four; at sixteen, she led a traveling troupe before joining a troop in New York. In 1889, Loïe Fuller emigrated to London; in 1892 she began in Paris, where she moved with her mother Dalilah. A mysterious lady ("the Great Lady") introduces Loïe to the cultural and social life of Paris. In Notre-Dame Cathedral, she conceptualizes the aesthetics of her shows: a harmonious unity between color, light, movement and spirituality. Her choreographies put technological progress at the service of a dance that exalts nature through curved lines and movements evoking flowers, butterflies, snakes: wrapped in long sails that she waves with the help of chopsticks and bathed in a light of changing hues, Loïe reminds viewers that man is part of nature. The originality of his dances is one of the main attractions of the Folies-Bergère cabaret, the place par excellence of Parisian life during the Belle Époque, where Loïe Fuller began and performed for ten years.

By transcending the body to reach a spiritual dimension where everyday life is transfigured by the beauty of art, Loïe Fuller becomes the muse of Art Nouveau and symbolists, while her contribution to innovations in lighting and devices sceniques fascinates directors, photographers, filmmakers and scientists: among his admirers are Mallarmé, Rodin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Carabin (see Representations of the dancer at the helm at the end of the 19th century), Ellis, Taber, the Lumière brothers, Marie and Pierre Curie, the architect Guimard and the astronomer Flammarion. Loïe also influences the decorative arts and photography: a rich production of statuettes is inspired by her dancing veils, and photographers try to capture the magic of her art.

Loïe Fuller tirelessly experimented with the possibilities of the effects of light and color on fabrics with different materials and consistency: this work earned her many patents, but her health suffered as a result of long rehearsals under harsh lights that damaged their eyes.

During the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, Loïe founded his own theater-museum and presented the Japanese troupe of Sada Yacco. Entirely devoted to art, she spends everything to continue her research until the end of her life; she died of pneumonia in 1928, assisted by Gab Sorère, her faithful companion and collaborator since 1897.

Image Analysis

Muse of Symbolism and Art Nouveau

The lily has a strong symbolic connotation in religious iconography, where it is associated with the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel who announces her future motherhood to her. Loïe Fuller chooses the lily for its symbolism, but also for emotional reasons: Lily ("Lily" in English) is the diminutive by which Loïe names her mother; and a loving mother is also nature for Loïe, who wants to reproduce its spiritual beauty. To transform into a flower, she creates a dance that requires great physical strength and perfect mastery of movements: in the most spectacular passages, the sails rise to a height of 3.50 meters. This choreography appears in the film The Féerie des ballets fantastiques by Loïe Fuller, produced by Gab Sorère in 1934.

The poster produced by Pal, painter and caricaturist of Romanian origin, is inspired by the Dance of the Lily, but without concern for realism: no physical resemblance to Loïe Fuller, emerging from a veil magically suspended in the air, of which the red-orange color evokes the surprising light effects created by the dancer.

In the photo taken by the American Harry C. Ellis and part of a series taken outdoors, Loïe's metamorphosis into a lily is accomplished: the body disappears in the veil which takes the shape of the typical chalice of this flower. In the garden, Loïe does not need special lights: daylight is enough for her to reinforce the image of a dance close to nature.

American Isaiah West Taber captures the energy and happiness of Loïe Fuller in this shot: her smiling face and the apparent lightness of the sails conceal the physical effort.

Fascinated by the ancient and exotic cultures that recognized the sacredness of dance, Loïe Fuller left for Egypt in 1914 with her students. In this photo, taken by Ellis, the position of the dancers on the ground and the pose of Loïe, standing in the middle, with open arms in a hieratic gesture, take up the triangular shape of the head of the Sphinx, also evoking the silhouette of the Egyptian pyramids .


Genius and tenacity of a pioneer

The Symbolists admire Loïe Fuller on the stage, but they do not consider her sufficiently cultured to admit her in their cenacle: too great is the cleavage between the flower-woman embodied by Loïe on the stage and the real woman who is not as beautiful and refined as Cléo de Mérode (see Cléo de Mérode, an icon between Romanticism and Symbolism), nor as charming and supple as Isadora Duncan (see Isadora Duncan between Hellenism and modernity).

Loïe Fuller's success is the result of great inventiveness, deep stage intelligence and hard work that enabled this self-taught artist to revolutionize dance and the performing arts. For a while, Loïe was not interested in cinema, because of its realism and the effect of absorption of light which is the exact opposite of his dances, where the body returns light by becoming itself light source ; but, when she discovers the way to appropriate the cinematographic process to adapt it to her approach by making it, as she says, "a new genre" where the film becomes "a tale made of light and unreal", his reservations about the cinema fall; in 1920, Loïe made his first film with Gab Sorère, The Lily of Life, taken from a tale by Queen Marie of Romania, friend of the dancer.

In an era when industrialization begins to estrange man from nature and himself, Loïe Fuller uses technology to create a dream world that charms people of all educational levels.

  • Art Nouveau
  • dance
  • feminism
  • Shepherdess Follies
  • symbolism
  • Belle Epoque
  • tale (story)
  • womens rights
  • Duncan (Isadora)
  • Mallarmé (Stéphane)
  • worldly life
  • actor
  • Rodin (Auguste)
  • Toulouse-Lautrec (Henri de)


Loïe Fuller Art Nouveau dancer, catalog of the exhibition at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy, May 17-August 19, 2002, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2002.Loïe FULLER, My Life and Dance, followed by Writings on Dance, Paris, Éditions de l'Oeil d´or, 2002.Giovanni LISTA, Loïe Fuller dancer of the Belle Époque, Paris, Hermann Éditeur des Sciences et des Arts, 2006.

To cite this article

Gabriella ASARO, "Loïe Fuller, embodiment of Symbolism on the stage"

Video: Jody a La Loie in the studio


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