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Born to British parents in Calcutta, India, Olive Craddock grew up immersed in the sounds, sights, and movements of the East. After studying dance in India, Craddock adopted the stage name
Roshanara, evoking the famous Mughal princess Roshanara Begum. Performing with a mixture of authentic and improvised dance moves, Roshanara became a sensation in the London dance world.
She danced with the Ballets Russes at Covent Garden, and then went on to tour with the legendary
ballerina Anna Pavlova. In 1916 Roshanara brought her dance to America, appearing in vaudeville
theaters around the country, and bringing her in contact with Robert Henri. Keith’s Magazine describes a performance at Madison Square Garden, for which Henri was in attendance, saying “The dancing of Madame Roshanara was a delightful feature. This picturesque person is an English girl, married, it seems, to a native prince. She has studied the subject first hand and is the personification of grace.”1 Widely praised for her skill and captivating qualities, Rosharana certainly inspired Henri—as evidenced by this stunning portrait. Founding member of “The Eight” and a pillar of the Ashcan School, Henri sought to personify the ethos of his generation, rebelling against the gentrified academy. In his pursuit of real subjects, Henri found dancers. Likely a study for the larger canvas by the same name, Roshanara appears at first blush to be a standard portrait. Unlike traditional monumental portraits, however, this work and the similar depictions of dancers like Ruth St. Denis and Betalo Rubino also by Henri, lack one key component—they were not commissions. Created purely from Henri’s own desire to depict these talented women, Henri’s series of dancer portraits represent the artist’s own interest in dance and his desire to capture this new exotic version of the modern woman.