Category Archives: Museums

Thoughts on Snapshots

Be sure to click for details.

I think we were all a little hard on photographs yesterday, so I thought I’d do a post in praise of them.  Not modern photos, of course; I’m going to praise the vintage snapshot.

Last week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art there were some small gallerys filled with old snapshots.  I was delighted to read that they were part of the massive collection of Peter J. Cohan, a collector I’ve read about several times over the past year.  Cohan began looking through and buying vintage snapshots at flea markets in 1990.  He did not look for any particular thing, but instead he just wanted to buy what seemed interesting to him.

Twenty-three years and over 35,000 photos later, museums, including the Met,  are starting to acquire parts of the collection.  The display has the photos arranged in quirky categories: kids with cigarettes, women with guns, women boxing.

Edwardian mooners

Just like Mommy

Two variations on a theme

If it is there, they will climb it

What is it that makes vintage photos so much fun?  Sometimes it is the spontaneity, but all these photos were staged.  Perhaps it is that, unlike today where we can snap and re-snap until we like the result, the photographer of yesteryear knew she or he really had only one or two takes to get it right, and there was no way to know if it was right until the photos were returned by the developer.

Then when the photos came, all the exposures were included, mistakes and all.  Today, many people never even print their photos, and when they do, only the best are picked to become hard copies.  I took over 250 photos in New York, but only had 35 of them printed.  And that was after I’d deleted hundreds more.

I think that most vintage photo collectors are like me, that is they do look for specific things in the old photos they acquire.  I may just follow Cohan’s example and be a little more open to the fun and the oddball.

 

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Punk: Chaos to Couture, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The curtain has dropped on the latest clothing exhibition from the Met, and I’m just now getting around to sharing my thoughts.  That’s because I did not see it until last Tuesday, the day before it closed.  No photos were allowed, and I was too lazy to request them at such a late date, but you can see most of the exhibition at the Met site.

The exhibition has been controversial from the beginning, with Malcolm McLaren’s widow questioning the authenticity of many of the items on display, with questions about how big a role Conde Nast (which co-sponsored the show) and Vogue editor Anna Wintour played in the choices of exhibits, and with the lack of garments worn by major players in Punk such as Debbie Harry and Patti Smith.  Reviews have been mixed, with many reviewers being left with the feeling that something was just missing.  Still, attendance was good, perhaps aided by the heat wave.

The day I attended the show it was pouring rain, and the museum was packed.   The exhibition hall was crowded, but not overwhelmingly so.  There was no wait or line.

As you entered the hall, the first thing that one saw was a reproduction of the restroom at the Punk club, CBGB.  Was this to set the mood, to tell visitors that Punk was a down and dirty scene?  If so, they failed miserably.  I’ve seen scarier restrooms in public schools.

But the next room was the heart of the exhibition.  Here there were six juxtapositions of Punk outfits from Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren with modern interpretations from Rodarte, McQueen, Balmain, Watanabe and Yamamoto.  It was a stunning display that clearly got the message across that yes, Punk is still a huge influence on fashion.  (There was also, inexplicably, a single mannequin wearing an outfit from the spring 2013 Burberry collection, with no historic reference.)

Also of great interest was a large collection of vintage Punk tee shirts, the ones questioned by the widow McLaren.  No matter.  They were quintessential Punk, and I’d even call them beautiful.

But with a few exceptions, that is where I began to question the “why” of the whole thing.  There could have been just that one central exhibit, and the message would have been clear, but instead, there were four more rooms of overkill.  Okay, maybe I’ve overstated it a bit, as I did enjoy seeing works by Zandra Rhodes, the famous Versace safety pin gown, the spray paint McQueen dress and an especially gorgeous gown from Ann Demeulemeester’s 2000 collaboration with Patti Smith.

But how many Maison Martin Margiela garments made from trash does one have to see to get the point?  And as stunning as they were, the exhibition was also heavily laden with work by McQueen (didn’t they “do” McQueen two years ago?).  Also on view was a Prada bottle cap skirt, similar to the one in last year’s show.  We were treated to an ensemble from the fall 2013 Saint Laurent collection, which I’d already seen, and hated, at Saks.

The last mannequin in the exhibition wore what can only be described as the back half of a dress, a 1998 model from Maison Martin Margiela (a gift from Barney’s, probably because it was unsaleable).  The mannequin was shooting us a bird, as final proof of how badass Punk is.  I thought it was silly.

What was missing was the feeling of the huge shift in what was shocking in 1976, to what is commonplace today.   The little bit of video and audio were confusing, and just added noise, not clarity.  I’m sure a lot of younger visitors were just left with a feeling that Punk was no big deal; that people still dress that way today.  Especially when they are greeted with this Punk display at Bloomingdale’s:

I did take a few shots of the gift shop outside the exhibition.  There might have been a lot of talk about dyi in the exhibition, but we all know that today it’s easier to just buy that Punk tee shirt.

Of course, if you are really Punk, you’ll add a bit of $8 safety pin Duck tape.

As a subject, I do believe that Punk fashion is valid, and is worthy of study and display.  But it really bothers me that the Met, with their stunning collection, has chosen for the past three years to showcase clothing from the past twenty years.  That might be okay if they were putting on more than one exhibition a year, but as it is , the last exhibition featuring purely historical fashion was American Woman in 2010.  I really hope that next year’s subject will treat us to some of the older delights of the collection.

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The Fashion History Museum

I’m happy to announce that the world now has a new museum devoted entirely to fashion, the Fashion History Museum.  Located in Galt, Ontario, Canada, it is the work of fashion historian Jonathan Walford and his partner Kenn Norman.  Jonathan is the curator of the collection, and Kenn is the museum director.  The Fashion History Museum was actually incorporated in 2004, but they have now opened in a permanent location in  Southworks, a restored historic industrial complex of 19th century limestone factory buildings.

You probably know Jonathan through his books, but he also has experience in the museum world, as he was the founding curator of the Bata Shoe Museum.  I’ve “known” him since the early days of eBay, where vintage sellers and buyers found a place to chat.  And I’ve always been in awe of his knowledge – and his vast collection.  Now it will be on view for all to appreciate.

There are plans to have rotating exhibitions throughout the three galleries that make up the museum.  Now, in gallery one is Paisley and Plaid – A Recurring Fashion.   It features clothing  ranging from 1810 through the 1990s that are printed, embroidered or woven with paisley and tartans.  Gallery two hosts Collecting Fashion for the Future: Acquisitions from the New Millenium.  Here are garments from designers such as  Jason Wu, Alexander McQueen, and Vivienne Tam.  The third gallery is devoted to accessories.  Currently showing is It’s in the Bag, an anthology of purse styles and materials.

Enjoy these highlight from the current exhibitions, and if you are in or near southern Ontario, you must put the Fashion History Museum on your list of things to see.

In the top photo: Four early dresses from gallery one Paisley and Plaid featuring (right to left) an English paisley print wool dress, c. 1848, American cotton print flounced dress, c. 1854, American blue and brown tartan silk dress, c. 1864, and an American printed wool and purple velvet dress, c. 1886

Printed wool dress by Oleg Cassini, c. 1954, and cotton tartan dress with corset hook closure by Clair McCardell, c. late 1940s – early 1950s

Right to left: View of red and black printed paisley design wool dress by Oleg Cassini, c. 1954, paisley printed silk two piece dress with culotte skirt by Norman Norell 1960, blue and red printed cotton dress and matching kerchief by Lulu, Montreal, c. 1968, and embroidered and mirror applique printed cotton caftan made in India for export, c. 1968

View of gallery two from Fashion for the Future, an exhibition of garments acquired by the museum to represent fashion since 2000. Dresses shown (left to right) include Andrew Matejny, Marchesa, Jessica Biffi, Liefsdottir, and Love-J, as well as selection of shoes by Jean Paul Gaultier, Donna Karan, Naughty Monkey, and others, under the watchful eye of vintage and antique dress forms

Another view of Fashion for the Future including dresses by (left to right)  Desigual, Steven Sprouse for Target, Roots, Takashi, and Vivienne Tam, and fascinator hats by Jacques Vert and David Dunkley

One view of Purse Anthology room featuring different styles of purses (reticules, backpacks, handbags, pocketbools) made from different materials (sea turtle, lucite, felt, etc.) by different designers (Gucci, Lucille de Paris, Willi Smith:Williwear)

To see more photos, and to read about how the museum came together, visit Jonathan’s blog.  The Fashion History Museum also has a website.

All photos and photo captions are courtesy of and copyright of the Fashion History Museum.

 

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Dior, Balmain, Saint Laurent:

Yesterday I went to Charlotte for a new vintage market (more about that later) and took the opportunity to see the latest fashion exhibition at the Mint Museum of Art. The Mint is one of my favorite museums.  They started collecting fashion the early 1970s, and today the collection numbers over 10,o0o objects.  I love that they have three galleries devoted to fashion and so you can visit anytime to see part of the collection.

The latest exhibition is devoted to three French masters – Dior, Balmain and Saint Laurent, with all the garments coming from the Mint’s permanent collection. It highlights the strengths of each with examples from not only the founders of each house, but also their successors.

This dress was designed by Christian Dior, labeled circa 1948.  It is actually a blouse and skirt, and is simply stunning.  I loved the glint of gold embroidered over the lace.

When Christian Dior died in 1958, a young Yves Saint Laurent was given the job of designer at Dior.   He was replaced by Marc Bohan in 1960, who designed this early 1960s suit.

Bohan was the designer of this plaid coat in the late 1960s.

The dress on the left is by Bohan for Dior, circa 1969.  The suit on the right is by Bohan’s successor, Gianfranco Ferre.

On the left is a cocktail dress by Bohan for Dior.  In the background is an evening ensemble by John Galliano for Dior.  Galliano was made the designer at Dior in 1997, and was fired in disgrace in 2011.  I was glad to see this example by Galliano.  There are many examples of designers who have exhibited despicable behavior (Chanel, anyone) but the importance of some, like Galliano, cannot be ignored.

Pierre Balmain opened his house in 1945.  His clothing often had a sculptural quality.  The suit above is from the mid 1950s.

When I came to this dress, I’ll admit, my first thought was a bit of a whine, “But I can’t see the bodice!”  But then, it morphed into, “Why the heck did they cover the bodice?”  That thought was even louder at the next dress:

I’m not a curator, and I have no museum or exhibition training, but I do know what I want to see in an exhibition.  Here we have two Balmain dresses, neither of which shows the bodice.   It’s like seeing only the bottom half of a painting!

Then it began to dawn on me that some of the garments in the exhibition were over accessorized.  These are the two biggest examples, but many of the garments were overshadowed by the styling.  I’m a person who actually likes seeing appropriate accessories with garments.  It adds to one’s understanding of how a garment was actually worn.  But when you can’t see the dress for the accouterments, then it’s time to follow the advice of Coco Chanel and remove the last accessory you put on.

So sorry about the fuzzy photo, but I just loved this great mid 1960s suit by Balmain.  Again, I have to say I found the strong accessories to be a bit distracting.

On the other hand, visitors are treated to what is often a hidden delight of couture – the interior of a garment.  In this case, we get a glimpse of the lining and trim of a coat by Oscar de la Renta, who designed couture for the House of Balmain from 1993 to 2002.

This stunning coat was designed by Christophe Decarnin, the designer at Balmain from 2002 to 2011.  Because of all the fur pieces used throughout the exhibition, I really could not tell if the fur around the neck is a part of the coat, or just an accessory.  It does seem to match the cuffs.

And finally, we get to Yves Saint Laurent.  Saint Laurent opened in 1962.  The jacket and skirt above are a great example of the beautiful ethnic-inspired clothing he designed throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Saint Laurent retired in 2002 and his couture atelier was closed.   His ready-to-wear line,  Rive Gauche, continued to be produced under the direction of Tom Ford, who designed the suits on the left and in the center.  The suit on the left (ignore distracting scarf)  is an homage to Saint Laurent’s Safari suits of the late 1960s.  The suit on the right was designed by Stefano Pilati, designer from 2004 through 2012.  Thankfully, there were no examples from the rebranded Saint Laurent Paris designer, Hedi Slimane.

I like that most of the garments are placed so that you can see them from both front and back.  I also love that you can get up-close to examine the details.  If you are ever in Charlotte, NC, the Mint is well worth the $10 admission price, especially while their excellent Fashionable Silhouettes in on view.

 

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New Feature – Exhibition Calendar

After a series of emails with a friend, I realized that I do not know of a good online listing of current fashion exhibitions.  I then decided to fill that void and the result is a new page here at The Vintage Traveler, Current Exhibitions.

My original thought was to do all exhibitions, both here in the US and abroad, but I quickly saw that I’m not going to be able to include other countries.   I am hoping to add Canada, but I’ll have to see how much time it takes me to keep up with the US listings.  If some of you fashion history and vintage bloggers in other countries would like to copy this idea, please feel free to do a listing for your country and we can cross promote.

I know that I must have left out a lot of great exhibitions, so if anyone knows of one I’ve omitted, please let me know and I’ll add it.

I hope this will be a useful tool, and that it will help us all to find the richness that our museums offer.  Suggestions are welcome.

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Fashion Independent: The Original Style of Ann Bonfoey Taylor

Ann Bonfoey Taylor wearing a Balenciaga evening coat (1962–63) at a personal photo shoot in 1971. Photo by Toni Frissell/Courtesy of the Taylor family.

Several weeks ago I mentioned that there was to be an exhibition of clothes belonging to Ann Bonfoey Taylor at the Georgia Museum of Art.  I’d planned on making the trip, and yesterday I made it down to Athens, GA to check it out.  The collection belongs to the Phoenix  Art Museum, which also organized the exhibition which first was shown there in 2011.

Having read the museum’s description of the exhibition, I knew that it included items from Charles James, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Madame Grès and Hermès.  That sounds pretty nice, but it’s been my experience that many times exhibitors tend to highlight the most famous names in press releases.  I was completely caught off guard when I walked into a room that contained not one, but  fourteen Charles James ensembles.

Charles James (American, b. England, 1906–1978) Ball gown, 1949 Silk taffeta and duchess satin Photo by Ken Howie

There were James suits and coats and evening gowns and the stunning ball gown shown above.  It’s is actually a dress and a jacket, and in the exhibition the two pieces are displayed separately with an explanation of how the two fit together.  She also had special foundation garments from Charles James, and the La Sirine gown in black and in eggplant.

Astounding as that was, I entered the next room and was met by Ann Bonfoey Taylor’s sportswear.  In this case, it was all pretty much from Hermès.  Yes, this woman went hunting and skiing wearing Hermès.

Cristóbal Balenciaga (Spanish 1895–1972) Evening dress and coat, 1962–63 Abraham silk Photo by Ken Howie

In the 1960s, Taylor turned to Balenciaga and Givenchy.  The gown and coat above was used as the introduction to the exhibition, and it is a real beauty.  But it was only one of thirteen Balenciaga ensembles in the show, and there were another twelve by Givenchy.  Mrs. Taylor was a serious couture shopper!

Hubert de Givenchy (French, b. 1927) Cocktail coat and dress, 1960s Silk Photo by Ken Howie

Most of the daywear was in dark colors – greys and black and dark blue. But her evening wardrobe was colorful and bright.  With the exception of wool plaids from  Hermès, there was a complete lack of patterned fabrics.  This woman knew what she liked and what looked good on her and she stuck with these things throughout her life.

Ann Bonfoey was born in 1910 to the family that manufactured Putnam Dyes.  She married early, at eighteen, and moved to Vermont where she took up the latest sports craze, snow skiing.  She discovered that she was quite good at it, and earned a spot on the 1940 Olympic team.  Unfortunately, WWII happened and the Olympics were never held.  After the US became involved in the war, Ann signed up as a flight instructor and she spent the war years training US Army air cadets.  By this time she was divorced from her first husband and needed to work to support her two children.  When the war ended, she turned to skiing and fashion in order to make a living.

She came up with the idea to make ski clothing, which her friend Diana Vreeland was able to get featured in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar.  She ran a shop in Stowe, Vermont, and the New York store Lord and Taylor carried her line, Ann Cooke.  The line was short-lived, as she remarried in 1946 and soon moved with her new husband, Moose Taylor, first to Texas, and then to Colorado.

Ann Bonfoey Taylor skiing. Photo by Toni Frissell/Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photos Division, Toni Frissell Collection.

This new husband had the means for Ann to have her clothing custom made by the best in the business.  She continued to pursue skiing, and she had incredible costumes made to her specifications.  At one point she went for a military look, and collected vintage and antique military hats and bags to go with her bright red jackets, which were decorated with brass military buttons.  In 1965 photographer Toni Frissell shot photos of Taylor for Life magazine and the pictures ran in an article titled “An Inventive Skier’s Worldly Wardrobe.”  Over the next decade, she became known as one of the most stylish women in the world.  Interesting, because all this fashion attention came after she had reached the age of 55.

Note cards, available at the Georgia Museum of Art

The last grouping of clothes in the exhibition were by Madame Grès and were from the 1960s and 70s.  To me one of the big surprises of the show were the Grès day dresses (seen in left note card).  For someone so associated with draping and evening gowns, she sure knew how to put together a lovely dress for day.

The two coats on the right are by Charles James, early 1950s.

  As I entered the exhibition area I was given the card above which contains a listing of terms that non-fashion people might not be familiar with.  I thought it was a nice touch.  Click it if you want to read the list.

I was disappointed to see that photos were not allowed, but I soon forgot to care, and I realized that not being able to use the camera forced me to focus on and remember the details of the garments.  Most museums that do not allow photos are very gracious about letting writers have access to press photos, and the Georgia Museum of Art even has them available for download right on the website.

I loved how the clothing was arranged.  The mannequins were placed so that the visitors can get really close to look at the fabrics and the details.  Many are situated so that both the front and the back can be seen.  There were actual photos of Mrs. Taylor wearing the garments that were on display.  In short, it was a very effective, entertaining show.

There were quite a few visitors, but the space was large, and the exhibition was spread over six galleries.  I loved watching the other visitors.  One group was a pre-teen girl, her mother and grandmother.  They were having the best time, the grandmother explaining the fashions of the 1960s to the little girl.

If you are going to be anywhere near Athens, Georgia before September 16th, you must see this incredible show.  The video below was shot at the Phoenix Museum of Art in 2011, but the show is pretty much the same.  Note all the Hermès sportswear behind the news reporter and the curator, Dennita Sewell.

All photographs are courtesy of the Georgia Museum of Art.  Do not post to other sites, please, including pinterest and tumblr.

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Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes at the National Gallery of Art

The main reason I took a side trip to Washington, DC was to see this exhibition, Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes: When Art Danced with Music.   Ever since I saw some of the costumes at the  Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut in 2006, I’ve been interested in how the costumes of the Ballets Russes influenced the fashions of the 1910s and 1920s.  So when I heard that this exhibition was to be held at the National Gallery of Art, I was pretty excited.  Originally organized by and shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, it was a big hit there in 2010.

I’m not going to beat around the bush.  This is a must-see exhibition if you are interested in the art, music, ballet, and fashion of the 1910s and 1920s.  The story of how Serge Diaghilev assembled the best of the avant-garde to transform ballet is a fascinating one, and the National Gallery tells it in a very engaging manner.  The exhibition is multilayered, with not just the costumes and props that are on exhibit, but using them in combination with the original drawings, artworks that were an influence, historic photographs, and film clips of the actual dances (but not from the original 1909-1929 productions because Diaghilev did not permit filming).

I’m not going to try to tell the entire story of the Ballets Russes, as it would make this post much too long.  For a brief  overview, the V&A site has a nice page that was made for the original exhibition.

Diaghilev and John Brown, New York, 1916. Photograph by Bain News Service. Collection of Ms. Anna and Mr. Leonid Winestein

There is a one hour film that shows continuously that one needs to view before entering the exhibition.  It tells the story of how Serge Diaghilev, who was not a dancer, not a musician, nor an artist, was able to put together his incredible ensemble.  Born into a wealthy Russian family that lost its fortune due to the political upheavals in early 20th century Russia, he left his home in St. Petersburg in 1906, and eventually decided that what Western Europe needed was a good dose of Russian culture.  He was just the man to supply it.

In Russia, Diaghilev had worked as a promoter of the arts, and had even published a magazine, World of Art.  He was friends with many of Russia’s artists composers and performers, so he was in a good position to call upon their talents.  From the beginning of the Ballets Russes in 1909, he had the support of Russians such as artists Léon Bakst and Natalia Goncharova, composers Sergei Prokofiev and  Igor Stravinsky, and dancers Anna Pavlova and Nijinsky.

The Ballets Russes was a tremendous hit, and even during WWI the troupe continued working by touring North and South America.  I find it amusing that the Ballets Russe never performed in Russia, but the people of Knoxville, Tennessee (about 90 miles from my home) were able to attend a performance in their town in 1916.

After the war, Diaghilev was able to bring in more artists to work on sets and costumes, including Picasso, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, and Matisse.  Coco Chanel was also involved,  making the costumes for Le Train bleu which were sporting clothes.

In 1929 Serge Diaghilev died.  He had never accumulated a fortune, as all the money the company made was put into the next production.  It was said that Chanel paid for his funeral and burial.

After the death of Diaghilev, the Ballets Russes disbanded and the dancers went on to be stars in other ballet companies, often using the old Ballets Russes dances and costumes.  A group called the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo was formed in 1938 by some of the former members.  The influence of the Ballets Russes was far-reaching and many of the writings I’ve read credit Diaghilev with pretty much inventing the modern ballet.

I’m indebted to the press office of the National Gallery of Art for the use of these photos of the exhibits.   Photos were not allowed, but these are much nicer than what I would have been able to take.  Most can be enlarged by clicking.

Please do not  put these photos from my site on Pinterest nor on Tumblr.

Léon Bakst, Costume for the Rose from The Spirit of the Rose, designed in 1911, fabricated 1922
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, The J. Herbert Callister Fund, the Florence Paull Berger Fund, the Costume and Textile Purchase Fund, and the Costume and Textile Flood Fund

This costume was originally designed for dancer Vaslav Nijinsky but this version is later, from 1922.  The costumes often had to be replaced due to the hard wear on them.

Auguste Bert, Vaslav Nijinsky in The Spirit of the Rose, 1911
gelatin silver print
V&A, London, Gift of Richard Buckle and Annette Page

This is Nijinsky wearing the costume as it was made for him in 1911.  The petals were applied with him wearing the costume.

Jean Cocteau, Vaslav Nijinsky from The Spirit of the Rose, poster for the opening season of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 1913
V&A, London, Gift of Mademoiselle Lucienne Astruc and Richard Buckle in memory of the collaboration between Diaghilev and Gabriel Astruc

And here we see the costume as rendered by artist Jean Cocteau in a poster for a performance of The Spirit of the Rose.

Nicholas Roerich, Costume for a Polovtsian Warrior from Prince Igor, c. 1909
silk ground, silk ikat fabric, cotton metal disks, skullcap embroidered in polychrome thread
V&A, London

A lot of thought and care went into all the costumes, not just those of the principal dancers.  The designer, Nicholas Roerich, sourced authentic ikat fabrics for various Polovtsian dancers’ costumes, whose clashing colorful costumes were an important part of the overall spectacle.

Léon Bakst, Costume design for Vaslav Nijinsky as the Faun from The Afternoon of a Faun, 1912
graphite, tempera and gold paint on laid charcoal paper
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund

The Afternoon of of a Faun was danced and choreographed by Nijinsky, and was an even bigger venture into the avant-garde.  The costume for the Faun was mainly painted onto tights and body.

Léon Bakst, Costume for a Nymph from The Afternoon of a Faun, c. 1912
silk chiffon, paint, lamé, metallic ribbon, cotton
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

This costume was worn by one of the Nymphs.  The ballet represented characters on a Greek vase brought to life, and the movements were intentionally two-dimensional.  The first audiences to see it were understandably confused.  Along with the costumes and artwork, the National Gallery has little theaters set up throughout so that many of the dances as interpreted by more modern dance companies can be viewed.  The Afternoon of the Faun still looks very modern.

Mikhail Larionov, Costume for the Buffoon’s Wife from The Tale of the Buffoon, 1921
cane-stiffened felt and cotton
V&A, London Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Léon Bakst, Costume for a Dancing Girl or Odalisque from Scheherazade, c. 1910
rayon, silk, metallic and other paint, metallic and rayon braid, gelatine paillettes, glass beads,metal fasteners, wire
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

It was the ballet, Scheherazade, in 1910 that set off the fad for Orientalism in fashion.  Paul Poiret always claimed that the Ballets Russes had no influence on him whatsoever, but I think he was protesting a little too loudly.

Natalia Goncharova, Costume for a Red Spotted Fish from Sadko, 1916
silk with appliqué, lamé, and paint
Dansmuseet – Museum Rolf de Maré Stockholm
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Sonia Delaunay, Costume for title role from Cleopatra, 1918
silk, sequins, mirror and beads, wool yarn, metallic thread braid, lamé
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Costume Council Fund
© Pracusa 2012003 Digital Image © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA. Licensed by Art Resource, NY

If you are familiar with the work of Sonia Delaunay, then you can see her theories of color at work in this costume.  The exhibition also has the original sketch, which I forgot to request, but you can see it on the Metropolitian website.

Alexandre Benois, Set model for Les Sylphides, 1909
gouache, watercolor, pencil and chalk on card, with bamboo supports
V&A, London

Just so you will know that it was not just costumes, this is a three-dimensional model for the set of Les Sylphides.  Click to see how wonderful it is.

Natalia Goncharova, Back cloth for the final Coronation scene from The Firebird, 1926
painted canvas
V&A, London © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

My favorite object was not a costume, but was this back cloth from The Firebird.  Even if you have not clicked to enlarge any of the other photos, you must see the larger version.  When I stepped into the room where this cloth was hung, my breath was literally taken away.  It is so large that the museum had to raise the ceiling in the room.  To get a better look at its size, here is a photo with people standing before it.

This is just a very small taste of the exhibition.  I spent hours, absorbed in the world of Diaghilev and his wonderful Ballets Russes.  Then I had to buy the exhibition book.

And a little extra:

Today the costumes and set materials from the Ballets Russes are scattered across the world in museums and in private collections.   You can look at the credits of the photos I’ve used to see a few of the collections that have Ballets Russes material.  For years, many of the costumes and sets had been in storage, and in 1967 the first of many auctions was held.  Over the next several decades the Victoria and Albert Museum amassed the largest collection of artifacts, but other museums such as the  Wadsworth Atheneum and the National Gallery of Australia have noteworthy collections.  You might be interested that the Australian collection was mostly bought in 1973 by an eleven-year-old boy.  Well, sort of.

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