A Blue Velvet Coat for one of the Lackeys in The Sleeping Princess by Diaghilevs Ballets Russes

Léon Bakst

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Property from a Private Collection, United Kingdom Léon Bakst 1866 - 1924 A Blue Velvet Coat for one of the Lackeys in The Sleeping Princess by Diaghilevs Ballets Russes the front openings edged with honey coloured satin and further applied with gold braid and gold studs, faux blue and gold skirt panels inset to the lower half, the wide cuffs covered in navy silk and applied with large gold and silver embroidered net flowerheads on an ivory satin ground Chest approximately 97cm, 38in. Provenance Collection of the Diaghilev and de Basil Ballets Foundation, Paris Sothebys London, Costumes and Curtains from The Diaghilev and de Basil Ballets, 17 July 1968, lot 130 Acquired at the above sale by the present owner Catalogue Note Costume for a Lackey (lot 152) and Costume for one of the Four Green Pages (lot 153) were designed by Léon Bakst for the legendary production of The Sleeping Princess by Diaghilevs Ballets Russes which premiered at the Alhambra in London in 1921. Based on an original version performed in St Petersburg in 1890, the production ran for 115 performances but Baksts set and costume designs were so lavish that they nearly bankrupted Diaghilevs company, the designs were impounded and believed to be lost or destroyed before resurfacing in the late 1960s and being offered at the landmark Sothebys sale. The present owner acquired the costumes at this sale held on the evening of the 17th July 1968 at the Scala Theatre in London. Sold to benefit the Diaghilev and de Basil Ballets Foundation, a charitable organisation that looked after the retired dancers, choreographers and ballet workers of the two companies, the costumes were modelled by young dancers from the Royal Ballet School. Many were acquired for the Victoria &amp, Albert Museum in London where they now form a key part of the collection. In Richard Buckles introduction to the sale catalogue he describes the discovery of the collection of the Foundation: ‘September of last year found Thilo von Watzdorf, David Ellis-Jones and myself in a warehouse at Montrouge in the southern suburbs of Paris, unpacking trunks and baskets, unfolding curtains, coughing an blinking from the clouds of dust. We could hardly believe our eyes as lid after lid was thrown open and treasure and treasure was identified, we were seized with a curiosity which was akin to greed… Pulling out a gorgeously embroidered eighteenth-century coat, immediately identified as a creation by Bakst for ‘The Sleeping Princess, that most lavish of all spectacles, given at the Alhambra in 1921, we assumed because of its splendour, that it was worn by the King or Prince Charming – but no, there were five more like it: it was just one of the courtiers in the background… Of Baksts three hundred costumes for this ballet at least half were here and in excellent condition. This was the more remarkable in that I had always heard that when Sir Oswald Stoll had seized the production until such time as Diaghilev could repay his enormous deficit, the entire wardrobe, stored beneath the Coliseum stage, had been ruined by a leaking swimming pool installed for a music-hall act. In fact this had only happened to some of the costumes: the rest were recovered by Diaghilev in 1926 – but he was never able to mount the great Tchaikovsky ballet again, We would like to thank Kerry Taylor for providing additional cataloguing information.