Installation view of Léon Bakst-designed costumes for The Sleeping Beauty at the BMA, February 2003.
Installation view of Léon Bakst-designed costumes for The Sleeping Beauty at the BMA, February 2003.

“We gave the public something new, and we were frankly opposed to everything obsolete and to whatever was too much hampered by tradition. Our programmes were nothing short of revolutions in art.”      –Impresario Serge Diaghilev

BALTIMORE, MD (February 12, 2003)—The legendary Ballets Russes electrified audiences in the early 20th century with its daring music, radical choreography, and brilliant sets and costumes. The Baltimore Museum of Art features some of the finest remnants of these spectacular productions, including rarely seen designs for the stage, sketches of costumes with notes from the artists, and the actual costumes worn by the dancers in Art of the Ballets Russes, on display from February 12 through May 4, 2003. The exhibition highlights nearly 80 set and costume designs and more than 30 lavish costumes created by renowned artists and designers such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico, and Léon Bakst in a theatrical installation that evokes the excitement of the Ballets Russes performances. The exhibition is presented in conjunction with Baltimore’s Vivat! St. Petersburg celebration, a citywide festival of Russian art, music, and culture.

“Visitors to the BMA will be able to experience one of the 20th century’s most groundbreaking artistic movements,” said BMA Director Doreen Bolger. “Art of the Ballets Russes will enchant all who love art, music, dance, and theater.”

Art of the Ballets Russes features selections from the greatest single collection of works from the Ballets Russes in the world, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art’s Serge Lifar Collection of Designs and Costumes. Ranging in style from the Russian romantic tradition to Orientalism to the European avant garde, the works in the exhibition were created by some of the most influential artists and designers of the 20th century-Chinese-inspired robes by Henri Matisse, whimsical men’s suits accented with the signature wings and columns of surrealist Giorgio de Chirico, and sumptuous and exotic costume designs from the Ballets Russes’ principal artist, Léon Bakst.

The BMA’s theatrical installation includes works from 24 productions—including “Petrushka,” “Firebird,” “Schéhérazade,” and “The Sleeping Princess”—spotlighted costumes posed in choreography from the ballets, and music by celebrated composers who worked with the Ballets Russes. Vintage programs from the ballets and images of the dancers in costume invite visitors to take a step back in time to experience the thrill of these dramatic productions.

Performing between 1909 and 1929 under the leadership of Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev, the Ballets Russes was the result of an unparalleled collaboration between pioneering choreographers, dancers, composers, and visual artists who revolutionized ballet, music, and art. Their innovative approach to all aspects of the performance included stage sets that evoked moods instead of fictional settings, choreography that shifted from traditional positions to modern ballet, and music that hit discordant notes instead of romantic cadences. Diaghilev’s genius lay in his ability to skillfully harness these various elements of the theater into a unified artistic expression.

Art of the Ballets Russes is organized and circulated by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, and is curated at The Baltimore Museum of Art by Katy Rothkopf, Curator of Painting & Sculpture.

This exhibition is generously funded by Dorothy McIlvain Scott and Mercantile Bank & Trust.  Additional funding has been provided by anonymous donors.

Activity Center
In the exhibition’s Activity Center, visitors of all ages can create their own spectacle by manipulating whimsical, interactive miniature theaters. On four elaborate dollhouse-size stages, visitors can press buttons for dramatic lighting and music, dress wooden figurines for a performance, select a setting, and create an imaginary narrative inspired by books in a cozy reading nook.

The Ballets Russes in Baltimore
In 1916, the Ballets Russes made its first appearance in Baltimore as part of a 50-city tour of America. While the local debut of the extraordinary dancer Vaslav Nijinsky at the Lyric Theater was much anticipated, Baltimore audiences just as eagerly awaited and applauded the designs of Russian-born artist Léon Bakst, who had become a sensation in the art world and a predominating influence in the world of fashion. “These settings are pictures such as our stage has hardly seen,” stated the program for the production. “They are backgrounds, too, against which the dancers are vivid or into which they seem to melt.”

VIVAT! St. Petersburg Festival
The Baltimore Museum of Art presents three exhibitions as part of Baltimore’s Vivat! St. Petersburg celebration, a citywide arts festival commemorating the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg. Art of the Ballets Russes (February 12–May 4, 2003) features more than 100 rarely seen designs for the stage and lavish costumes by some of the greatest masters of modern art; The Brilliance of Bakst: Theater and Textile Designs from Baltimore Collections (February 12–May 4, 2003) highlights bold and colorful works by Léon Bakst; and Gregor Piatigorsky: Virtuoso as Collector (February 26–June 8, 2003) presents selections from the art collection of this renowned Russian cellist.

From February 13 through March 2, 2003, Vivat! St. Petersburg will present an array of Russian art, music, and culture that is sure to be one of Baltimore’s most memorable events. For more information, call 1-877-BALTIMORE or visit

About the Baltimore Museum of Art

Founded in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) inspires people of all ages and backgrounds through exhibitions, programs, and collections that tell an expansive story of art—challenging long-held narratives and embracing new voices. Our outstanding collection of more than 97,000 objects spans many eras and cultures and includes the world’s largest public holding of works by Henri Matisse; one of the nation’s finest collections of prints, drawings, and photographs; and a rapidly growing number of works by contemporary artists of diverse backgrounds. The museum is also distinguished by a neoclassical building designed by American architect John Russell Pope and two beautifully landscaped gardens featuring an array of modern and contemporary sculpture. The BMA is located three miles north of the Inner Harbor, adjacent to the main campus of Johns Hopkins University, and has a community branch at Lexington Market. General admission is free so that everyone can enjoy the power of art.

Press Contacts

For media in Baltimore:

Anne Brown
Baltimore Museum of Art
Senior Director of Communications

Sarah Pedroni
Baltimore Museum of Art
Communications Manager

For media outside Baltimore:

Alina Sumajin
PAVE Communications