Jacques Emile Blanche was one of the first artists, along with Pierre Bonnard, Kees van Dongen, and Jules Flandrin, to have painted dancers from 'Les Ballets Russes'. The appearance of the dance troupe in Paris heralded the arrival of exoticism on the doorsteps of the artists' studios, whose interest was already turned towards the Orient. Blanche's obsession with the dancers led Diaghilev to name him "Parrain des Ballets Russes" and caused the painter accompanying Rodin and Jean Cocteau in preparing the text of the album "Faune".
This portrait was inspired by Nijinsky's visit together with the prima ballerina, Tamara Karsavina, to Blanche's house in Auteuil on a Sunday in June 1910. These Sunday meetings were referred to by Marcel Proust as Les Anciens Causéries du Dimanche, but such rendez-vous also encouraged music and Nijinsky is known to have danced there to the music of Borodin, probably accompanied at the piano by Fauré, Debussy, Ravel or Stravinsky. On this occasion, Auguste Rodin, Lucien Corpechot, the critic and Eugène Druet, the photographer, were present. Cocteau was to make sketches of the dancer, one of which he later adapted for the famous poster of Nijinsky in Le Spectre de la Rose for the 1911 Paris season, while Druet was invited to photograph Nijinsky, as Blanche was unable to convince the dancer to pose for studio sessions. From the 1850's Manet and Degas had employed this method of working from photographs, but Blanche differed by choosing a photographer of great talent, who had been commissioned by Rodin to photograph his sculpures (of the nineteen photographs produced eleven are conserved by the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris and seven by the New York Public Library, Lincoln Center, Dance Collection, Dodge Collection).
Nijinsky was to pose before Druet in the artist's garden, wearing the costume from La Danse Siamoise; however the most successful photographs were two of the three retained by Blanche, set in his drawing room. This salon was considered "Un des plus beaux de Paris" and the dancer told Blanche's wife of his enjoyment of posing in this setting. The painter was to frame him against a sumptuous screen in coromandel lacquer, standing on an oriental rug, thereby displaying "L'idole du public" in a setting which evoked in Blanche's words "luxe, calme et volupté". Thus Nijinsky's spirit was perfectly represented through the colors of his character and Blanche was to baptise the work Le Baiser Sacramentel de l'Idole, as the most complete and successful representation produced from his studies. (It is probable that the majority of the seven other compositions were destroyed in 1915 on the Lusitania while en route to New York). The portrait was purchased by a seventeen year old girl, daughter of the Duc Decazes, later Princess Edmond de Polignac. The picture was to receive mixed reviews with André Warnod in Comedia, 24 April 1911, writing "Les Ballets Russes l'inspirèrent après beaucoup d'autres peintres qui ne se sont jamais doutés que bien souvent ils ne faisaient que copier Bakst très servilement. Jacques Blanche veut être au goût du jour." He refers to Bakst's portrait of Nijinsky on a beach on the Lido, painted in the summer of 1910 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), which displays an almost Fauvian power through the strong colours and blank expression. Blanche's portrayal however penetrates the dancer's spirit, as discussed in L'Arsène Alexandre's eulogy in The Figaro, 15 April 1911. "Un des mérites qui me paraissent les plus saisissants dans le beau portrait du danseur russe Nijinsky, par M. Jacques Blanche, c'est encore moins sa couleur si riche et si soutenue que la surprenante pénétration par l'artiste des caractères de race les plus expressifs, mais aussi les plus fuyants et les plus difficiles à nous faire sentir. Cette espèce de langueur orientale, mélangée paradoxalement à une vitalité exessive, cette sorte de nature féline aussi bien dans sa souplesse que dans ses soudaines violences, cette façon d'être, comme indirecte, qui appartient déjà à l'Asie et dont notre simplisme n'a pas la moindre notion, il fallait pour percevoir et exprimer toutes ces nuances dissimulées sous des apparences tranchées, la vive et variée intelligence de M. Jacques Blanche, sa curiosité sans cesse en éveil, les dons d' assimilation qui lui ont acquis peu à peu les ressources d'un métier qui n'est jamais pris au dépourvu, qui ose tout dire parce qu'il sait tout dire. M.J. Blanche a entouré son principal envoi de quelques belles études de costumes, qui sont comme les gammes d'un habile exécutant."
Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) was in his second season in Paris with the Russian Ballet under the direction of Serge Diaghilev when Blanche painted this portrait. He had trained at the Imperial School of Ballet in St. Petersburg from 1898-1907 and had been introduced to Diaghilev in 1908 by his first patron, Prince Paul Dimitrovich Lvov. Towards the end of 1910, he was according to Bakst, "L'Idole du public". His name was known throughout Paris and students at the Academy of Beaux-Arts simply referred to him as "Dieu de la Danse". Accordingly, Diaghilev offered him his first tailor-made roles, inspired by Michel Fokine. His exotic character was exploited as a golden slave in Schéhéazade,as a fairy-like creature in Le Pavillon d'Armide and Les Sylphides, and ultimately as the sensual slave in Les Orientales. Fokine's evocation of the court of Siam derived from a performance of King Chulatonqkorn's troupe of dancers in St. Petersburg, in 1900. This event had an enormous influence on Fokine and Bakst and resulted in their reforms of the classical "ballet russe"; Fokine was to reinvent the Siamese dancers' movements, and what might have fallen into music-hall farce, paradoxically achieved enormous aesthetic success, through the unique interpretation, also exaggerated by his exuberant arrogance. Nijinsky wore the costume designed by Bakst for the suite of dances, which consisted of two solos for the dancer. The first, La Danse Siamoise was accompanied by the music of Sinding, while the second, Kobold, was danced to a piano piece by Grieg and orchestrated by Stravinsky. It was first presented at the Mariinsky theater on the 20 February 1910 and La Gazette de Saint-Pétersbourg announced that "c'était la première fois qu'un premier danseur classique allait apparaître seul et non comme partenaire d' une ballerine", also commenting on the technical difficulties of the dances. Following its opening at the Opéra in Paris on 25th June, José de Berys writes in Comaedia "Ce sont des images d'Orient, chatoyantes, lumineuses, évocatrices descontaines Asies, des levants dorés et des Arabis heureses sous les ciels d'outremer".
Later in the season, Tamara Karsavina was to dance in the first performance of The Firebird and was partnered with Nijinsky in Giselle. The pair repeated this performance at the Mariinsky theater in January 1911, but following complaints about the scantiness of Nijinsky's costume, he chose to resign, rather than to apologize, and he returned to Paris for a third season of Russian Ballet, which included Le Spectre de la Rose and Petrushka. The Covent Garden season, from June 1911 under the direction of Diaghilev, was such a success that a second season was quickly arranged for October to December, which included the first preformance of Swan Lake outside Russia. Despite the controversy during the spring 1912 Paris season of L'Après-midi d'un Faune, choreographed by Nijinsky, the fourth London season of 1913 included this ballet along with the first London season performance of Petrushka. The high point of Nijinsky's
career came with Le Sacre de Printemps, performed at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées and marked 'the turning point in the history of dance'. It was repeated in the fifth London season and was sponsored by Sir Thomas Beecham.
In late 1914, the company visited South America without Diaghilev, where in Buenos Aires, Nijinsky married Romola de Pulsky. Diaghilev dismissed him and Nijinsky attempted to set up his own company with a two week season at the Palace Theatre, London. An illness cut short this unsucessful season and his ill-fortune was followed by the couple being trapped in Vienna at the begining of the war. Although on April 1916, Diaghilev attempted to reconcile their differences with an invitation to rejoin the company in New York, their relationship could not be recovered, in spite of a reasonably successful tour in the United States and Spain. Nijinsky moved to Switzerland to recuperate, but developed chronic schizophrenia, eventually dying in England in 1950.
Forty years earlier Blanche, in the garden which inspired Debussy to write Jardin sur la Pluie, described how 'dès que le lad se fut costumé en siamois, rouge, or et bleu papillon, l'assistance exulta. Un être surnaturel suspendu entre les marronniers en fleurs et le gazon virevoait autour des rhododendrons, il semblait butiner comme une abeille".