Anticipation - Helen Birnbaum

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London View Inspiration Details

Artist Statement

Helen Birnbaum

The chilly blue colour of these dancing feet belies the affection with which they were made. The young woman’s feet become her dancing shoes, one foot poised as if to take off to dance to an exciting future or perhaps into the unknown. Anticipation is a very personal work made by a mother for her daughter just before she goes out into the world and her shoes identify the path she hopes to take. These dancing feet are made in ceramic stoneware and decorated in a pale blue Celadon glaze. A thin leather thong laces up one of the dance shoes suggesting that her physical body is laced into her ballet practice and life. The muscular toes evidence to the hours of practice it has taken to get to this point. Both feet rest on a Welsh slate plinth to suggest where the owner originates from. The feet can be displayed with an attached ceramic plug (image provided) which suggests that external energy input is sometimes required.

The different pathways and the shoes we put on to take them were celebrated in all their glory at the Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, 2016, which explored the making, social and cultural significance, and transforming capacity of footwear. Anticipation celebrates this sense of transformation and the potentially disquieting point of anticipation that precedes it. Shoes: Pleasure and Pain enabled us to consider the magical, fairytale powers of shoes and these ceramic dancing shoes want to sit next to Karen’s famous Red Shoes.

The V&A has a stunning collection of all types of shoe some of which were made 3,000 years ago and others by designers only very recently. Anticipation is the ceramic contribution to this collection which envisages the owners’ feet as her own dancing shoes.

Anticipation - Helen Birnbaum

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Inspiration details:

Pair of shoes

pair of shoes


ca. 1850


V&A collection reference number(s):
NA Shoes: Pleasure and Pain Exhibition

Exhibition Guide

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