Thursday, September 8, 2011


I came across this novel accidentally. Dancer by Colum McCann was published a few years ago, a biographical novel about the late great Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993). I wanted to like the book well enough to really read it (after the preliminary skim I was giving it) because I adored Nureyev and got to see him dance several times in the Seventies during his prime years in the West. But my standard sampling method for fiction (to determine quickly whether I can at least tolerate the voice in which the novel is written) led me rather rapidly to the conviction that this was not a book I could personally see myself reading. Others must feel differently because it has remained very popular and is still in print.

Rudolf Nureyev 
photo by Kenn Duncan

All the same I will give Dancer credit for printing a fascinating appendix with selected auction records from Christie's 1995 Nureyev sale. Below are excerpts from the New York Times coverage of that sale.

The contents of Rudolf Nureyev's Dakota apartment in Manhattan fetched almost $8 million in a two-day buying frenzy at Christie's, far higher than the auction house's estimate of $3.3 million to $4.8 million. Nearly 2,000 people flocked to Christie's on Thursday night and Friday to watch and to buy ballet slippers and costumes, furniture and paintings that belonged to the dancer, who died in 1993. Théodore Géricault's "Homme nu a mi-corps" sold for $53,500 (the estimate was $60,000 to $80,000). "Portrait of George Townshend, Lord de Ferrars" by Sir Joshua Reynolds, estimated to bring $350,000 to $450,000, was bought by an unidentified collector for $772,500, a record for the artist. Johann Heinrich Fuseli's "Satan Starting from the Touch of Ithuriel's Lance," sold to another anonymous buyer for $761,500 (the estimate was $500,000 to $700,000).

Théodore Géricault
Homme nu à mi-corps

Sir Joshua Reynolds
Portrait of George Townshend, Lord de Ferrars

Henry Fuseli
Satan Starting from the Touch of Ithuriel's Lance

When I was in college we were taught that every novel is fundamentally concerned with a certain sum of money. And I think in the same semi-corrupt way, every viewer is just that little bit extra interested in art that comes associated with a certain sum of money. So there did turn out to be considerable gossip-value in the book, even for one who did not read it.