Posted on 01/04/2014
Maud Allan in 'Spring Song'
Spring has arrived at last, bringing beauty, colour, and glimpses of sunshine to campus. It has inspired the choice of this month’s item as a hand-tinted postcard showing Maud Allan posing for a series based on Mendelssohn’s ‘Spring Song’, c.1910. It is taken from the Roy Waters Collection of theatrical ephemera and is one of many photographic postcards featuring mostly early 20th century performers and artists. What is particularly exciting about this one is that it is autographed on the front in ink.
Maud Allan was one of the most famous dancers of the early years of the 20th century, and she enjoyed international success. Much was made of her comparison (negative and positive in various degrees) to her notable contemporary, Isadora Duncan.
In this postcard, she stands against a background painted with pink flowers which match the blossoms she wears in her hair and at her waist. She holds a pose as if she is captured in the middle of a dance, stretching out her arms and turning her head gracefully to the side. Her choreography was inspired by research into depictions of historic dancing, and the great influence that Botticelli’s painting Primavera (‘Spring’) had on her can be seen in her poise as well as the style of her dress. In her autobiography she writes that “To try to express in movement the emotions and thoughts stirred by melody, beautiful figures and sculpture had become my ambition.”
Allan became famous not only for her artistic talents, but also for the scandals that affected her life and career. In particular, her performance in The Vision of Salomé in the early 1900s was considered salacious and controversial, quite a contrast to the airy lightness of this springtime postcard. It was based on the Biblical story in which the young Salomé performs the Dance of the Seven Veils for King Herod, who rewards her with anything she wishes. Her mother encourages her to ask for the head of John the Baptist, which is done, and she performs the dance again in a kind of trance, in which the head appears to her in a vision. The Roy Waters Collection also features postcards showing Allan in her Salomé costume.
She was involved in a trial in 1918 following appearances in Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé, in association with which she was accused of engaging in “unnatural vices” which were connected to Wilde’s own trial for gross indecency several years before. In relation to this trial, she admitted that she was the sister of a convicted murderer, Theodore Durrant. Following on from this her career subsided. Her later life was not well recorded, although she did set up a school for impoverished London children, and was involved in American aircraft efforts as a draftsman. She died in October 1956.
Isabel Sudbury, Archives volunteer
Information from ‘Maud Allan: The Public Record’, by Lacy McDearmon, Dance Chronicle, Vol. 2, No. 2 (1978), pp. 85-105.