Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2020

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Art History & Archaeology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation puts into conversation the career of the aristocratic French patron and would-be impresario of modernism, Count Étienne de Beaumont, and the conflicted relationship between Surrealism and dance in Paris during the period between the two World Wars. Beaumont and Surrealism represent respectively an older, reactionary, and a newer, radical, manifestation of the avant-garde in French culture. Beaumont’s flamboyant self-performance— his eccentric personal style, his extravagant costume balls, his wide network of associates in the Parisian artworld, and his ambitions as a Maecenas to rival Diaghilev—establish him as a central figure of reactionary modernism in the 1920s. This tendency inscribed a taste for advanced art as the preserve of an elite class, and tied it to a desire for a resuscitation of the past as a means to renew French culture. Against this, Surrealism proposed a revolution of the world and the mind; an overthrow of rationalism, order, and tradition in society and the individual consciousness. Dance (modernist ballet, chiefly the fashionable Ballets Russes and Ballets Suédois) was central to the vanguard aesthetic and social formation of Beaumont and his circle, which included artists of the pre-war avant-garde; it had also, as freier Tanz or free dance, been an essential means of expression and provocation for the historical avant-gardes, Futurism and Dada. However, Surrealism decisively rejected all dance and music, signaling a rupture with not just mainstream culture but also with its own precursors in the oppositional cultural formations of the early twentieth century. Beaumont’s circle and André Breton’s Surrealists clashed publicly over a dance performance in 1924: Pablo Picasso, Léonide Massine and Erik Satie’s innovative ballet Mercure, the climax of Soirée de Paris, the Count’s hubristic project that assembled a galaxy of modernist talent for a brief season of dance and theatre. This confrontation of the established and emergent avant-gardes launched the Surrealist movement and confirmed dance’s banishment from its repertoire. For this study, it constitutes a stage on which tensions between different formations of the avant-garde were played out—ultimately proving to be a pivotal moment when the French avant-garde changed, the old overtaken by the new. Yet dance’s vital role in Futurism and Dada argues that it should have merited a place in the Surrealist experience. The reasons for its exclusion were deeper than they appear, and include complex personal, political, psychological and philosophical antipathies, despite grounds for affinity such as the potential for automatic expression. The collaboration of Surrealist painters Max Ernst and Joan Miró on the Ballets Russes’s production of Romeo and Juliet in 1926 demonstrates a failed attempt to produce a Surrealist dance, its aesthetics compromised by its politics. L’Exposition international du surréalisme in Paris in 1938 finally witnessed dance that could be called authentically Surrealist, in a performance by Hélène Vanel that sets the terms for such an alliance, and created a precedent for future experimental work in dance and performance art.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

John R. Klein

Committee Members

Elizabeth C. Childs, Angela L. Miller, Julia Walker, William E. Wallace,