15 March 2021 09:00

Royal Academy of Dance gifted rare painting of Tamara Karsavina

The Royal Academy of Dance announces that it has been gifted a rare portrait of legendary ballerina Tamara Karsavina (1885-1978), one of its founders,

The portrait by French painter Jacques Émile Blanche. is one of a only a handful of portraits that exist of the pioneering ballet dancer and will now join a rich archive of material relating to the woman who helped shape modern British ballet as we know it today.

Photo: Christies Images Ltd. 2020.

This is the first painting by Blanche to enter the Royal Academy of Dance collection, having been gifted by the generous support of a group of donors from across the UK: 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.

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”.

Born in St. Petersburg in 1885, Karsavina’s early career saw her dance with the Imperial Ballet alongside her celebrated rival dancer Anna Pavlova, before appearing with the distinguished Diaghilev ballet in 1909 as ‘perhaps the greatest of Russian dancers’. She came to London, joining the founding committee of The Association of Teachers of Operatic Dancing of Great Britain – which went on to become the Royal Academy of Dance. A hugely influential teacher across the world of ballet, her ‘Karsavina Syllabus’ devised for the RAD in 1954 is still taught to students on ballet teacher education programmes at RAD Headquarters.


Although dated 1928, the RAD has reason to believe that this portrait may have been painted earlier, between 1910-1912. The work was gifted by Lady Mary Stewart Evans to English dance teacher Roger Tully in 1977. This portrait is the second painting of Karsavina by Blanche. He previously painted her in the role of The Firebird, a very prestigious role created by her with choreographer Michel Fokine. That painting is now housed in the Paris Opera, where the ballet premiered. The painting which has been gifted to the RAD is of particular significance, as there are very few paintings of Karsavina not in ballet costume.

The artist

Largely a self-taught artist, French born painter Jacques Émile Blanche (1861-1942) was a society portraitist whose loose brushwork and subdued pallet took direct inspiration from Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas to create a distinctively Impressionist style. Best known for his portraits of the Parisian cultural milieu, including Marcel Proust, Jean Cocteau and August Rodin among others; he also painted the dancing stars of the day, attending dress rehearsals of the Ballets Russes in order to paint such names as Vaclav Nijinsky and Ida Rubenstein.

Read more about the portrait on the Observer/Guardian website.

Find out more about the RAD’s new headquarters – a new home for dance.

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