Whenever I go, intentionally or not, I seem to find something to do with Diaghilev and The Ballets Russes.
For the last week I have been in New York and on Monday I visited the Met Museum – one of my favourite museums. Quite by accident I came across a display of designs by Léon Bakst.
The small exhibition, in the Drawing and Prints room on the second floor (690), contains 15 designs and paintings by Bakst as well as some items of ephemera. According to the didactic panel the Met’s holdings of Russian art were significantly enhanced in 2015 through the bequest of Sallie Blumenthal.
Unfortunately there are some pretty bad mistakes in the information panels including a statement that the Ballets Russes was founded in 1905.
The designs include a number of Ballets Russes related items:
- A design for Iksender from La Peri – Bakst designed this ballet in 1911/12 but it was never created. The design at the Met is dated 1922 and would appear to be a copy created by Bakst.
- Two designs from Scheherazade. One is a costumes design for the Sultan Samarkand dated 1922 – this, like La Peri, would appear to be a copy created by Bakst . The second design is for a Eunuch from 1910.
- Two designs from Daphnis and Chloe. One is a design for a woman from the village and the second is for a Brigand Boy – both dated 1912.
- The costume design for a female courtier from The Sleeping Princess, 1921. I believe this design might actually be from Anna Pavlova’s version of The Sleeping Beauty created in 1916. Bakst did reuse some of his designs for the Ballets Russes 1921 version.
- The design for the day bed for Cleopatra, dated 1909.
- Set design for The Good Humoured Ladies, 1917.
- Set design for Daphnis and Chloe, 1912.
- Set design for Narcisse, 1911.
The Met currently also has a wonderful exhibition of Irving Penn’s (b.1917 – d.2009) work. Although Penn worked after Diaghilev’s death a number of his portraits featured associates from the company. This included: Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Stravinsky – as well as a wonderful portrait of The Ballet Club featuring Balanchine.