Rare Ballerina Painting Gifted To Royal Academy of Dance

It will go on show at the RAD's New HQ on York Road

Picture: Christie's Images Ltd, 2020

A rare portrait of the legendary Russian ballerina Tamara Karsavina has been given to the Wandsworth based Royal Academy of Dance.

The oil on canvas is one of only a handful of portraits that exist of the pioneering ballet dancer, who died in 1978 and who was also one of the founders of the RAD. The oil is of particular significance as there are very few paintings of Karsavina not in ballet costume.

The painting will now join a rich archive of material at the Royal Academy relating to the woman who helped shape modern British ballet. The painting - by French artist Jacques Émile Blanche (1861-1942) - was gifted by a group of donors from across the UK including The Linbury Trust, Lord and Lady Sainsbury of Preston Candover, Sir Simon and Lady Robertson, Mr Roger Harrison and Mr Kerry and Mrs Dimity Rubie.

Lady Anya Sainsbury CBE, of The Linbury Trust, said, “A friend of mine, Suzanne Gielgud, got in touch and said that a beautiful portrait of Tamara Karsavina, which she had seen before in her friend Roger Tully’s house, was due to go on sale at Christie’s. Suzanne thought I would be interested and she was right, when I saw the painting I was absolutely ravished by it.

“However, I felt that it should go somewhere where more people would be able to see and enjoy it. I knew of Karsavina’s connections with the Royal Academy of Dance and I realised immediately that it should be acquired and given to the RAD for their new headquarters.”

Born in St. Petersburg in 1885, Tamara Karsavina’s early career saw her perform with the Imperial Ballet alongside her famous rival, Anna Pavlova. After appearing with the distinguished Diaghilev ballet in 1909, and receiving acclamation as ‘perhaps the greatest of Russian dancers’, Karsavina came to London to join the founding committee of The Association of Teachers of Operatic Dancing of Great Britain – which went on to become the Royal Academy of Dance.

The portrait is the second painting of Karsavina by Impressionist Jacques Émile Blanche. He previously painted Karsavina in the role of The Firebird, created by her with choreographer Michel Fokine and decades later performed by Darcey Bussell, President of the RAD, at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony.

An artist’s impression of the new The Royal Academy of Dance HQ, due to be completed this autumn.

A hugely influential teacher across the world of ballet, Tamara Karsavina’s ‘Syllabus’, devised for the RAD in 1954, is still taught to students on ballet teacher education programmes at the current RAD Headquarters in Battersea Square.

Luke Rittner CBE, Chief Executive, Royal Academy of Dance said, “We are delighted to welcome Tamara Karsavina back home to the RAD. The painting will help us tell the story behind the foundation of the Academy, and the portrait will hang prominently in the new headquarters, continuing Karsavina’s lifelong mission to inspire dancers for generations to come.”

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March 23, 2021