Performers and other Stage Personalities
Eugene Fitsch may have had a reputation for his backstage landscapes, but he spent much time among the performers and created many images of some of the great talents on the stage. He found inspiration in dancers like Martha Graham, Helen Tamaris, Esther Junger, Sophia Delza, Yvonne Georgi, Harald Kreutzberg and L’Argentina. His romantic drawings of flexible bodies are sometimes distinctly drawn and other times as seen through gauze. In one image of Harald Kreutzberg, the dancer is only vaguely discernable until you look closely at the shadows thrown by his figure on the draperies. However drawn, Fitsch’s dancers are always graceful in motion as if he caught them in flight. As typical of his images, he used high illumination and deep shadows to show off his figures. His ability to reveal movement came from his use contrasting the hard geometrics of the theatre space against the swirling contortions of the dancers.
Donald Bear, Director of the Denver Art Museum in 1936 commented on Fitsch’s figure studies:
Fitsch’s prints of dancers are rich in expression of the dance, full of plastic meaning and expressed with a subtle nuance of accented line. He handles light and arrangement with freshness and vitality, running his scale from lightly spun tone to the rich percussion of blacks.
By the fact of keeping subject matter and approach to the medium so sensitively balanced, these prints go quite beyond the field of illustration . . . The artist has seized upon the essentials of people organized in a situation or rhythm, such as the dance. They do not separate as characters from their situations and surroundings . . .
Fitsch’s work is dependent upon expression of gesture, pose and action. He takes little cognizance of distortion. If distortion appears to the casual spectator, upon second look it will be seen that a line is bent or a physical fact slightly rearranged for the sake of emphasis and expressive interpretation. (Donald J. Bear. “Exhibition of Fine Prints on Display at the Art Museum.” Denver Post, 12 July 1936: sect. two: 5.)
Beyond the dance, Fitsch saw actors and other stage personalities and was able to record them as well. Along with a portrait of an unidentified actor and various burlesque performers, he shows us Ruth Draper in character as a Dalmation peasant. Among the many actors shown in previous chapters, he ashows us the actors on stage in productions of The Dybbuk and Masse Mensch. In a review of his figurative drawing, Fitsch was said to have the ability to combine “poetic delicacy and dramatic power with a precise notation. In his paintings he reveals the same ability to present figures set in flashing light or glamorous depths of shadow; figures which move, flutter swiftly by or seem caught into rhythmic motion. His breaking up of color and light planes is accomplished so deftly that his canvases have great animation, the linear design and the balance of masses finely related.” (Margaret Breuning. “Morton Gallery.” New York Evening Post. 29 Nov. 1930.)