Duncan, Raymond, 1874-1966

Alternative names
Birth 1874-11-01
Death 1966-08-14

Biographical notes:

Raymond Duncan, brother of Isadora Duncan, was a painter, actor, sculptor, craftsman, poet, and writer.

From the description of Raymond Duncan papers, 1948-1968. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 497927483


Raymond Duncan, brother of Isadora Duncan, was a painter, actor, sculptor, craftsman, poet, and writer.

From the guide to the Raymond Duncan Papers, 1948-1968, (Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.)

Raymond Duncan (1874-1966) was an American dancer, artist, poet, craftsman, and philosopher. Born in San Francisco, he was the third of four children of Joseph Charles Duncan, a banker, and Mary Dora Gray, youngest daughter of Thomas Gray, a California senator (the other children were Elisabeth, Augustin, and Isadora). Raymond Duncan was drawn to the arts from an early age. In 1891, at the age of 17, he developed a theory of movement which he called kinematics, "a remarkable synthesis of the movements of labor and of daily life." He believed that the value of labor was the development of the worker, not production or earnings.

In 1898 he and his mother and siblings left America and worked for a time in London, Berlin, Athens, and Paris. Duncan's theory of movement led him to work particularly closely with his sister Isadora, a noted dancer. Duncan became particularly fond of Greece. He and his Greek wife, Penelope, lived in a villa outside Athens which they furnished in the manner of classical times, and many of the furnishings were handmade by Duncan, whose craft work included ceramics, weaving, and carpentry. No one was permitted to enter the villa in modern dress, and they themselves dressed in classical Greek attire both at home and abroad (when they visited Germany in 1907, the newspapers wrote that they "shock[ed] Berlin...by appearing in the streets and shops clad in Greek negligee...displaying most of the leg below the knee").

In 1909 Raymond and Penelope returned to the United States for a series of performances of classical Greek plays, touring Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, San Francisco, Portland, and other cities. The couple also gave lectures and classes on folk music, weaving, dancing, and Greek music. They then spent several months in the Pacific Northwest with the Klamath Indians. In 1911 Duncan and Penelope returned to Paris and founded a school, the Akademia Raymond Duncan, at 31 Rue de Seine, which offered free courses in their specialty areas of dance, arts, and crafts; they later opened a similar school in London. Both schools were based on the idea of the Platonic Academy and both were "an open house for every new effort in theater, literature, music and art."

In addition to his artistic and creative pursuits, Duncan found time to write poetry and plays, as well as books, newspapers, and editorials expounding his philosophy of "actionalism." At the age of 73, he proposed creating the city of "New Paris York" at latitude 45N, longitude 36W (in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean) as a symbol of cooperation and inter-cultural communication. In 1948 and 1949, he wrote and performed in Europe and the United States an autobiographical solo work in three acts whose subject was "the story, the author, and the leading role all in one." He was accompanied on this tour by his second wife, Aïa Bertrand, a Latvian whom he had met in Paris and with whom he had a daughter, Ligoa.

From the guide to the Raymond Duncan Collection, 1942-1949, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)


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Ark ID:


  • Drama--Collections
  • Religion and philosophy
  • Education--Philosophy
  • Bohemianism
  • Dance and theatre


  • Educators
  • Dancers
  • Philosophers


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