Ballets Russes Treasures at Evergreen House

Bakst Stage Set at Evergreen House

The Rustic Mill or The Irish Barnyard stage set designed by Léon Bakst for the Evergreen Theatre, 1923.

Did you happen to catch the National Gallery of Art’s recent exhibition on Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes 1909-1929, “When Art Danced with Music?” Loved it and want to see more? Or maybe you didn’t get a chance?

Bakstportrait

Portrait of Léon Bakst by Saul Bransburg, 1915, inscribed by Bakst to Alice Warder Garrett.

Baltimore is lucky enough to have a wonderful collection of work by one of the Ballets Russes’ most famous stylists, Leon Bakst. Anyone who loves the performing arts, or the decorative arts of the early 20th century should stop to see his astonishing work at Evergreen Museum and Library.

The Ballets Russes, founded by Serge Diaghilev in the early 1900s, launched dancer Anna Pavlova and choreographer George Balanchine. And its dances included works by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky.

Bakst Theatre Hall

Bakst Theatre Hall

Leon Bakst, a Russian emigre, brought his own sense of color and style to the Ballets Russes for which he worked from 1908 to 1922. When he left the ballet, he went to Baltimore, and specifically to Evergreen, at the invitation of its owners. The private theater he painted was only one of a number of his works to be produced here and stored here. The artist also created three stage sets and costumes for Alice W. Garrett to wear during her performances there.

By the time Bakst arrived, Evergreen already glittered from all its treasures: Tiffany glass, paintings by Picasso, Modigliani and Degas, a library with 30,000 books. The home of B&O Railroad president John W. Garrett and his wife Alice, this once-modest Italianate mansion was transformed into a 48-room marvel of the Gilded Age.

The couple had met Bakst in Paris before World War I and Mrs. Garrett invited the famous designer to come to Baltimore. During the year he was in Charm City, he stenciled the theater’s walls and lobby ceiling, as well as designed stage sets and Alice’s costumes.

Bakst_ArabianPrince

Costume design for Arabian Prince with Pageboy by Léon Bakst for the 1916 production of La Belle au Bois Dormant (The Sleeping Beauty) in New York.

The theater, which opened the next year, was stunning. What had once a gymnasium for three growing boys became a remarkable, colorful theater with a vaulted ceiling and the art of Leon Bakst covering just about every flat surface.

Alice’s theater is the only private theater Bakst ever designed. What’s more the museum is the only one to have in its collection both stage sets designed by Bakst and his preliminary water color designs. An added bonus, the brilliantly-hued dining room with its Chinese wall hangings was also decorated by Bakst.

Evergreen is located in north Baltimore, on Charles Street, and easy to get to.

Bakst_DiningRoom

Bakst’s artistry extended to the Evergreen Dining Room which he decorated with dramatic window treatments made of fabric created from one of his textile designs; brilliant yellow walls; and Chinese red silk wall hangings painted with images of the eight Chinese immortals.

© Text Mary K. Tilghman

Photos/artwork: Courtesy Evergreen House Foundation Collection,
Evergreen Museum & Library, Johns Hopkins University

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