Pavlova As Muse

The concept of “the artist’s muse” explores the relationship between an artist and their fascination with a particular person or idea. The artist then brings forth a visual creation based on this intense focus. In her own day, and even in our own times, Anna Pavlova—through her dancing, her unconventional beauty, and especially her capricious persona—has provided the inspiration for others in their own creative expression.

Pavlova as Columbine

Historical Information

This watercolor sketch by K. Somov was painted in 1909 and is clearly labeled as a costume design specifically for Pavlova in the role of Columbine, in the age-old tale of Harlequin, Pierrot, and Columbine. (See another costume, “Harlequinade” in “The Tsar’s Ballerina” Gallery). I was puzzled that I couldn’t find a single photograph of Pavlova wearing this costume. I now believe that it was never made.

Somov was a Russian artist and costume designer in the circle of the famous impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who in 1909 was forming his groundbreaking dance company, the Ballets Russes. Pavlova danced for Diaghilev in Paris very briefly and was probably scheduled for later in this role. But after just one volatile season, the uncompromising ballerina and the unyielding impresario broke ties, and Pavlova went on to form her own company. Diaghilev was giving top billing to his male dancers, and Pavlova was never very good at sharing the spotlight with others! She would later dance other iterations of the Harlequin cycle, but never in this costume.

Note: This triad of characters—originating in medieval day—is also the source of today’s DC Comics Harley Quinn. What is old is new again!

Columbine, Re-Imagined

As long as there have been theaters and costume shops, there have been times when money, materials and time were scarce and opening night was just around the corner. A time-honored way to solve all these problems at once was to paint a design on rough muslin, imitating the intricate piecing and embellishing of a more laborious creation. Some of the costumes still in existence from the Ballets’ Russes are done in just this way. And much later, in 1946, when the Sadler Wells Ballet reintroduced “Sleeping Beauty” to a war-weary and devastated London, its costume shop did the same thing. I wanted to try this for my reimagined Columbine costume. I drew out all the pieces (sixteen in the lined bodice alone) from a sturdy cotton poplin, and with fabric paint and a small filbert brush painted each piece individually before sewing the whole thing together. Though the process was time-consuming, it certainly was a lot quicker than piecing hundreds of tiny fabric triangles together. I hope that when the stage lights come up and they bounce across my Pavlova in her iridescent colors, the audience will forgive me my little economies of money and time!

Pavlova Attends Knight Exhibit

Historical Information

Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970)  was one of Britain’s most accomplished and popular figurative painters. The circus, the theatre, and the ballet were favorite subjects for her prodigious body of work in oils, watercolors, dry point and etching. Pavlova was often a model and muse. In 1920, the famous dancer attended an exhibition of Knight’s work at the Leicester Galleries in London. Ever the fashion plate, she was dressed in a cream silk suit, matching hat, and an ermine and mink shawl. She is photographed looking at Knight’s painting “Taking a Bow,” where she and her partner Alexander Volinine are subjects. Pavlova is acknowledging the audience not with the usual restrained curtsy, but with a traditional Russian bow, leaning far forward from the waist with arms flung out. The vivid colors of this delightful painting capture all the exuberance and drama of the performance.

Pavlova attends Knight Exhibit, Re-Imagined

As she has done so often, my friend Marina of All For Doll found the perfect piece of fur for me, complete with black-tipped “tails.” Marina is originally from Siberia, and she shares my passion for Russian ballet. I am indebted to her for many wonderful props and beautiful furs that she finds in her resale shop excursions. The suit is made from a piece of cream-colored silk from Elfriede’s Fine Fabrics. What makes it particularly special is that comes from a bolt of Japanese silk from 1945, brought into the shop by a US Army veteran who obtained it while serving in Occupied Japan after World War II. I was fortunate to get a yard of this historic fabric—as beautiful as the day it was rolled onto the bolt — and I’ve used it here and in other outfits. I love when there is a story within a story in the Pavlova Project!

The hat is a one-quarter scale adaptation from a people-sized pattern called “Eleanor” from Elsewhen sewing patterns. The elegant armchair was issued by the Tonner Doll Company.

Gavotte Pavlova

Historical Information

This lively pas de deux, with music by Paul Lincke and choreography by Ivan Clustine, delighted audiences from its premier in 1913. It remained in Pavlova’s repertoire until her death in 1931.

There were many versions of this dance, and as many costumes, but this lemony silk Directoire dress, designed by famed fashion artist Erte (Romain de Tirtoff, Russian, 1892-1990) was an audience favorite. Her partner wears black satin tails and a bright cumberbund accessorized by lace collar and cuffs.

American artist and dance historian Troy Kinney was best known for his works portraying dance performers, among them Ruth St. Denis, Sophie Pflanz, and of course, Anna Pavlova. He traveled the world to study various dance styles, and with his wife published two books on dance which are still respected works today.

Gavotte Pavlova, Re-Imagined

Though Erte’s original gouache painting for this costume shows the dress in blue and red, it was eventually made up in bright yellow silk and either black or magenta lining (descriptions vary). I used a brillilant silk charmeuse lined with magenta china silk and trimmed with gold sequins, braid, and ribbons. Gold heels and a huge brimmed bonnet complete the costume. Volinin’s tuxedo is in my favorite silk/cotton blend from Elfriede’s, lined in the same magenta. Vintage lace accessorizes both costumes. I am once again indebted to Joe Kowalksi for the pattern for the man’s tuxedo.


Christmas Card

Historical Information

This Christmas card, sent by Pavlova to friends in 1923, was created by artist Eveline Von Maydell (1890-1962), who studied art in St. Petersburg before emigrating to the USA in 1922. There were large groups of Russian émigrés in Paris, London, and New York, who were referred to as “White Russians.” They were minor aristocrats, artists, intellectuals, writers, and others who had fled, often for their lives, from the Bolshevik regime in the newly formed Soviet Union. Quite often they gave themselves gratuitous titles. Pavlova, an émigré herself, would have known “The Baroness” through her contacts in the émigré community in New York. The card is a print of a black paper silhouette of Pavlova with a small dog sitting on its hind legs. The dog is quite possibly Pavlova’s beloved Boston terrier, Poppy, of whom we have many photographs.

It is hand-inscribed and signed in ink with the following caption: “With my warmest Christmas and New Year greeting, Anna Pavlova, New York, 1923.” There were perhaps hundreds of these cards sent by Pavlova, but this is one of the very few that has survived.

Christmas Card, Re-Imagined

I was very excited to find this image online, and I knew I wanted to re-create it for The Pavlova Project. The tutu is made with two different gauges of netting: a fine one for the first three layers and a larger gauge for the top layer. The little dog is needle felted. His head is too big (I’m still perfecting my needle felting skills) and his silver ruff matches the tiara on Pavlova’s head.