The highest price for a single costume design by Alexandre Benois (1870-1960), designer for the Ballets Russes under Sergei Diaghilev, was recorded at Forum (25% buyer’s premium) in London on July 14.
While his set designs and views of Russian and French historic landmarks can sell for a good deal more, the costumes he designed for the great dancer Vaslav Nijinsky have a particular commercial appeal and can easily take five-figure sums.
The 13¼ x 10in (34 x 26cm) pen and black ink sketch (with extra watercolour over pencil) here was signed and extensively annotated by the artist, which helped identify it as a design for the ballet Le Pavillon d’Armide staged by Diaghilev in Paris in 1909.
At the time Nijinsky was the company’s rising star and this was the first time he was seen by a French audience. As well as designing the sets and costumes, Benois wrote the libretto for the performance.
Benois produced related costume designs for subsequent productions of the ballet until the 1930s. He then revised some of them again as he reimagined some of his work, assembled his memoirs and prepared for the dedicated one-man show at the Storran Gallery in 1941.
The fact this picture appeared in the latter show suggested it was a revised design rather than one for the original 1909 ballet.
It came to auction having been bequeathed to the vendor by Eardley Knollys, the owner of the Storran Gallery who was also a friend and associate of the Bloomsbury Group artists.
Estimated at £8000-12,000, it drew numerous bidders online and on the phone, selling at £30,000 to a European-based private collector.
The price was the highest at auction for a straightforward Benois costume design offered as a single lot.
Also bringing interest but lower down the price scale was a small group of works on paper by Eve MS Guthrie (fl.1920s- 50s), the illustrator for the Wells series of children’s books on ballet, which appeared at Parker Fine Art Auctions (25% buyer’s premium).
One was titled Margot Fonteyn in ‘Nocturne’, an 11 x 8½in (28 x 22cm) watercolour signed and dated 1940. It was offered with three other works by the artist depicting Alexandra Danilova in Swan Lake, Tamara Toumanova and Serge Lifar in Giselle and Mia Slavenska in Spectre de la Rose.
Guthrie produced such pictures of ballet and ballerinas from 1925-56, some of which were published in a book called Pictures From The Ballet in 1945. She also exhibited her works at The Medici Society in Liverpool and London, as well as at The Lady Lever Gallery in Port Sunlight, Cheshire.
The four works offered as a single lot at the sale in Farnham, Surrey, were elegant examples but, with little track record at auction, they were estimated at just £100-200. After bringing a battle between French dealers, the lot was knocked down at £440.