Conceived in 1913, the present sculpture is a key work from Archipenko's early years in Paris, widely considered to be his most innovative and important period. Closely allied with city's artistic vanguard, Archipenko was arguably the first sculptor to attempt a truly three-dimensional equivalent of Cubism, and among the earliest to produce sculpture by means of assemblage. As Donald Karshan, the foremost scholar of Archipenko's work has written, "When reviewing Archipenko's oeuvre before World War I...confining the analysis to just a three-year period from 1910 to 1913 when Archipenko was in his early twenties, we are able to arrive at the following conclusion: during this brief period, the Ukrainian émigré, virtually on his own, established an entire new vocabulary for twentieth-century sculpture" (D. Karshan, op. cit., 1974, pp. 28-29).
Of all the themes that captured Archipenko's attention during this seminal early period, none is more prominent than the dance. Between 1911 and 1913, he created four major sculptures on this theme--Negro Dancer (1911), Dance (1912), Red Dance (1912-1913), and the present work--as well as numerous oils and pastels. Scholars have suggested several sources of inspiration for these spirited and buoyant compositions, including the robust folk dancing of Archipenko's native Ukraine, Serge Diaghilev's exotic Ballets Russes, and the modern amusements of the circus and street fairs. The latter were especially popular among artists of the Parisian avant-garde (notably Picasso, who later recalled, "I was really under the spell of the circus"); Archipenko himself made two constructions, Médrano I and II, that took their names from the legendary Montmartre circus. The lively pose of Blue dancer also recalls Matisse's La danse, which caused an uproar in the Paris art world when it was exhibited in 1910. Comparing the present work to its immediate predecessor, Red Dance, Katherine Michaelsen has written:
Like Red Dance, Blue Dancer is shown balancing on the toes of one foot, but this figure rests on a small circular plate atop a marble pedestal. The raised left arm has been added for balance. By changing the proportion of the legs, a triangular space was formed between the thighs. The V-shape of this leg is echoed by the bent right arm and mirrored by the raised left arm. Instead of the large polygonal space between arm and body seen in Red Dance, in this work there are three semi-enclosed, modeled spaces. Volumes alternate with similarly-shaped spaces and the two are complementary and interdependent. Compared to Red Dance, this figure is both more graceful and more realistic... (K.J. Michaelsen, op. cit., 1977, pp. 91-92).
When Archipenko moved to the United States in 1923, he left behind a number of his early sculptures, including the plaster version of Blue Dancer. On a visit to Paris in 1960, he learned that some of these works had recently been seen in Cannes, in the collection of Jean Verdier and his wife Zeneide Kramaroff, an ex-mistress of Archipenko. The sculptor contacted Verdier and arranged for eight plasters, among them Blue Dancer, to be shipped to New York, where they were cast in bronze editions. The casting was begun under Archipenko's supervision, and completed by his estate following his death in 1964. The present work is not marked with the "F" used to designate posthumous casts, indicating that it is a lifetime example.