Anna Pavlova, b. 1881 – d. 1931 was most famous for her performance of the divertissement The Swan or The Dying Swan. The elaborate feathered tutu she wore has always fascinated me – How was it made? Does it survive?
Several years ago I began working as a volunteer at the Museum of London which houses, amongst its vast collection, Pavlova’s Dying Swan tutu. Finally I was able to see this wonderful creation up close.
I have now traced three Dying Swan costumes in collections around the world – they are all thought to have been worn by Pavlova.
Pavlova’s costume-maker Madame Manya stated that “she [Pavlova] never wore more her Swan costume more than twice without the skirts of the tutu being renewed”. This was most likely because tarlatan and tulle were much softer and required constant stiffening.
Could this be why three costumes still exist?
1. Museum of London
This costume was given to The Museum of London in 1931, shortly after Pavlova’s death, by her manager Victor Dandré. It is a beautiful costume decorated with white and cream goose feathers. This costume is most likely the last that Pavlova wore.
The tutu is beautifully made and has a green stone set in the centre. The layered skirts are covered in small sequins.
2. Bancroft Library, San Francisco
A second Dying Swan costume forms part of a large collection of historic dance costumes and ephemera, collected by Joseph Rous Paget-Fredericks b. 1903 – d.1963, and is now held at The Bancroft Library.
This gorgeous costume was on display last year at The Denver Art Museum where it formed part of the exhibition: Rhythm & Roots, Dance in American Art. This costume is very similar to that held at the MOL but has blue stones in the headdress and on the bodice.
The Paget-Fredericks Dance Collection contains roughly 2,000 original drawings, paintings, photographs and pieces of memorabilia, the majority of which date from ca. 1913 to ca. 1945.
The Pavlova costumes are on long-term loan to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco from the Joseph Rous Paget-Fredericks Dance Collection, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. Here is the link to the finding aid:
Joseph Rous Paget-Fredericks b. 1903 – d.1963 was an American artist, designer, dancer and illustrator.
His mother, Constance, was a hostess to many great dancers visiting California and a keen collector. ‘She collected theater and dance memorabilia and art and the family home was said to contain numerous souvenirs of Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, Vaslav Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova (including many of her beautiful costumes for such ballets as “Swan,” “Giselle,” “Rondino,” and “Gavotte”).’
3. Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra, Paris
A third costume is held at the Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra in Paris. The costume the library holds is believed to have been designed by Léon Bakst in 1907 for Pavlova.
Although very similar to the other two costumes the way the wings are set on this costume is quite different. The shoulders also appear to be decorated with a marabou style trim rather then individual feathers. I have not yet been able to trace the provenance of this costume.
You can see this costume on display now at Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra until the 5th of March 2017. The costume forms part of the exhibition Bakst: des Ballets russes à la haute couture. http://www.bnf.fr/documents/cp_bakst.pdf
A new swan …
Last year I was asked to source a replica of The Dying Swan costume for a jewellery launch at Kensington Palace Orangery. The costume I sourced was made for the production of A Portrait of Pavlova which was first performed in April 1989 by Ballet Creations. The company was founded by Richard Slaughter and Ursula Hageli with the aim to inspire audiences. The couple undertook extensive research to recreate some of her most famous, unique and well loved dances with input from former members of Pavlova’s own ballet company. The pair also recreated her costumes in astonishing detail.
The Dying swan costume had been beautifully made but had been stored in an attic for many years. I restored the costume, replacing many of the feathers on the bodice and steaming out ones on the wings. I was very happy with the result – I hope Pavlova would have been too!