1949. Pen and black ink. Titled, initialled and dated by Eugene Berman. With a crossed-out costume design in pen and black ink, and watercolour on reverse. 292 x 228 mm. 228 x 292mm (9 x 11½"). .5kg. . Near fine; light browning to paper; residue of mounting glue to verso, with an additional mark affecting the costume sketch; remains of tissue mounting tabs on top edge of verso.
An original set design by Eugene Berman for George Balanchine's Ballet Imperial performed by the Sadler's Wells Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London in 1950. The design is a loosely worked ink sketch but with plenty of detail. A series of ornate Rococo structures form an architectural courtyard. Angels trumpet, an eagle spreads its wings, clouds roll and the sun bursts through.
The ink sketch on the reverse is a design for the costume of a male dancer, heightened with watercolour. It is struck through with a cross in pencil.
Eugene Berman (1899-1972) was a leading Neo-Romantic painter and stage designer, becoming one of the world's most acclaimed theatrical designers of his time. He was an expert draughtsman and his set designs, with their jewel-like quality, are highly prized. He was born in Russia but emigrated first to Paris, and then to America. His career had two parallel strands, one painting and one theatre design, although the two overlapped stylistically. Berman was heavily influenced by nineteenth-century Romanticism and by the architectural ruins encountered on his travels to Mexico, Egypt and Italy. His images have a sense of melancholy, of the sublime and of the theatrical.
Berman had become fascinated by theatre design since his youth having attended the Imperial Ballet in Saint Petersburg and Diaghilev's Ballet Russe in Paris. He first worked with the choreographer George Balanchine in 1936 when they both contributed to A. Everett Austin's Hartford Music Festival. Berman's designs for the festival were his first realised stage designs. The relationship continued with Berman designing many ballets for Balanchine over the next few decades, including Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme in 1944, Giselle in 1946 and Roma in 1955. He designed the Imperial Ballet again in 1952 for La Scala Ballet, Milan. He ended his stage design career as he had began, working with Balanchine on Pulcinella in 1972.
[Tuggle, Robert. Eugene Berman. Drawings for the Stage. Wheelock Whitney & Company. 1989; Duncan, Michael. High Drama. Eugene Berman and the Legacy of the Melancholic Sublime. Hudson Hills. 2004.]