Serge Lifar, the last great protégé of the incomparable impresario Sergei Diaghilev, went broke touring America with his European dance company in 1933. He had one important asset: his extensive collection of paintings for set designs from Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and from his own productions at the Paris Opera. He sold the lot, including paintings by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, to Hartford, Connecticut's Wadsworth Atheneum for $l0,000--an extravagant sum at the time--and paid for his dancers' fares home.
One look at this volume of drawings, paintings, and sketches by Georges Braque, Max Ernst, Naum Gabo, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Matisse, Joan Miró, Amedeo Modigliani, Picasso, Georges Rouault, and others shows what a coup acquiring the Lifar collection turned out to be. Augmented by photos of costumes from Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, the book documents the remarkable collaborations among artists, composers, choreographers, and dancers that flourished at the dawn of modernism in European art and culture.
The delectable Art of Ballets Russes shows 188 works of art and 32 costumes from 1909 to 1929, mostly for the Ballets Russes productions, that remain a touchstone for the world's theater and dance designers. It also includes wonderful vintage photographs of Ballets Russes dancers on-stage, in front of mammoth sets designed by the greatest painters of Europe.
Alexander Schouvaloff, founder of the Theatre Museum branch of London's Victoria and Albert Museum, has written a thoroughly engaging, detailed essay on theater design that places the Lifar collection in historical context. His anecdotes are priceless. He relates tales of dancers who stood still while Matisse painted flowers on their skirts and of others who could barely execute their leaps in Giorgio de Chirico's weighty dresses encrusted with architectural motifs. This informative, erudite book evokes the beauty and excitement of the Paris in which Diaghilev worked his singular magic.