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The lifespan of one illustration of Picasso
- from its creation to the employment on stage and further interpretations 

It’s quite rare in the history of illustrative art and stage design to trace the entire path of the artwork- from bringing it to life as a sketch, to its appearance as a costume photographed onto the actor during the opening performance, and, eventually, as a direct source of inspiration for artists- spectators. Through Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973) “Chinese Conjuror” for the ballet “Parade” (the theme being a publicity parade in which three groups of circus artists try to attract an audience to an indoor performance), we are fortunate enough to be able to follow its birth from illustration, to posters, and then afterwards functioning on the ballet dancer captured in motion and its final passage to already-recognisable representation influencing generations of artists. 

It was the first and not the last attempt of the great modernist to take over the design, remaining faithful to his extravagant style and avant-garde vision. The writer Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), the author of the scenario for “Parade”, commented on the subject "Picasso amazes me every day, to live near him is a lesson in nobility and hard work ... A badly drawn figure of Picasso is the result of endless well-drawn figures he erases, corrects, covers over, and which serves him as a foundation. In opposition to all schools, he seems to end his work with a sketch. Picasso's design was critically-acclaimed, being considered “a symbol of "the progressive art of their time, and has only become more celebrated and better appreciated over the past century."

1. Projected costume design by Pablo Picasso for the Chinese Conjuror in the ballet Parade, 1917, Pen and ink on paper

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(Pic 1) Projected costume design by Pablo Picasso for the Chinese Conjuror in the ballet Parade, 1917, Pen and ink on paper

“Parade” was created by Jean Cocteau (who had the idea and wrote the libretto), Pablo Picasso (designing his first ballet), Erik Satie (composer), with choreography by Léonide Massine. It received its premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris on 18 May 1917. The role of the Chinese Conjuror was created by the choreographer of the work, Léonide Massine who also danced the early performances in London.

2. Pablo Picasso, “Chinese Conjuror” for the “Parade” ballet, 1917, costume design, completed work

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(Pic 2) Pablo Picasso, “Chinese Conjuror” for the “Parade” ballet, 1917, costume design, completed work

The colors and lines are definite and bright, selection of the red is done deliberately, as it’s a widely-known national symbol for China, also linked with the ideas of good fortune, prosperity, joy. As for the details and ornaments, though they are inspired by Chinese art, but are rather modified to more stylized and simplified ornaments bearing the stamp of “Picasso style”. The distinctive tail of braided hair hanging down, hinting Chinese hairstyle “queue”, “Manchu boots” in use for performances of Beijing Opera, as well as the form of the jacket rendering “Tang suit” still visually speak of Asian origin.

3. London-printed poster on paper, 1919 with the image of Picasso’s “Chinese Conjuror”

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(Pic 3) London-printed poster on paper, 1919 with the image of Picasso’s “Chinese Conjuror”

Poster for the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square for the week 12 - 18 October during the season there 29 September - 20 December 1919. The poster claims that the Empire is 'the Premiere Variety Theatre and Cosmopolitan Club of the World', the Managing Director is Alfred Butt, and Manager Oscar Barrett. The Programme notes that evening performances are at 8.30 pm with the Saturday matinee at 2.30 pm. The program for each performance is announced and the repertory for the week consists of La Boutique fantasque, Le Carnaval, Children's Tales [Contes Russes], Cleopatre, The Good-Humoured Ladies, Petrouchka, The Polovtsian dances from Prince Igor, Scheherazade, Les Sylphides. Details of ticket prices from 21s to 2/6 are given. 
 
The poster is an example of the first publicity by the Ballets Russes to include the costume design by Pablo Picasso for the Chinese Conjuror in the ballet “Parade” which received its London premiere during this season. Subsequently, the image served informally as a company logo whenever the ballet was presented. This image with changing repertoire details was also used for advertising cards during the season. The season at the Empire was the final one in the company's 15-month stay in Britain which restored its fortunes after the First World War. 
 
4. Costume for The Chinese Conjurer in Massine's ballet “Parade” designed by Pablo Picasso, for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, 1917. It consists of Theatre Costume, Dance Costume, Trousers and Hat. 

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(Pic 4) Costume for The Chinese Conjurer in Massine's ballet “Parade” designed by Pablo Picasso, for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, 1917. It consists of Theatre Costume, Dance Costume, Trousers and Hat. 

Short padded very wide wrap-over “Coolie’ jacket of scarlet silk (left side and sleeve replacement), with sleeves set into the side seams from the waist and slightly graduated towards the cuff, and fastening on diagonal from left hip to neck. At the front, a block of asymmetric curlicues of padded silver cloth shaped and “quilted: at the base by black stitching; behind are graduated “sunrays” in chrome yellow satin. The back is similarly decorated, but the appliques are unpadded. Around the hem is a padded silver tissue scalloped band. At the neck is a flat collar of bright yellow satin.

5. The actor wearing Picasso-designed costume of “Chinese Conjuror” during the play, unknown photographer 

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(Pic 5) The actor wearing Picasso-designed costume of “Chinese Conjuror” during the play, unknown photographer 

Performed by Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The ballet was choreographed by Leonide Massine to music by Erik Satie, with scenery and costume design by Pablo Picasso. The photography provides us with the exceptional insight into the employment of the stage costume, designed by Picasso and previously used as an emblematic image for placard and advertisement production of the ballet, so that one can observe the transformation of the two-dimensional art form into a three-dimensional outfit with a precise purpose and then as if animated and livened up on the person involved in certain action: on every stage of its development the audience’s perception shifts in the same way the contextual and functional properties vary, still having one single image as a content-related basis.

6. Illustration by Ethelbert White circa 1920, featuring “Chinese Conjuror” of Picasso 

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(Pic 6) Illustration by Ethelbert White circa 1920, featuring “Chinese Conjuror” of Picasso 

The illustration on tracing paper by Ethelbert White shows the Chinese Conjuror from the ballet “Parade” standing on his right leg with his left bent at the knee in front of his body and foot flat. He leans forward with his arms behind him and pigtails flying behind. The background evokes the set of the ballet.  This drawing was probably made by White when the ballet was first performed in London in 1919. The drawings by Ethelbert White were commissioned by the bookseller and publisher Cyril Beaumont and appear to have been intended as possible illustrations for a small book in the Impressions of the Russian Ballet series. Beaumont published twelve volumes documenting eleven ballets between 1918 and 1922.

 

It’s worth mentioning that The Theatre & Performance Collections at the Victoria & Albert Museum hold the costume for the Chinese Conjuror, glass plate photographs by Lachmann of Massine in the role in 1917, designs by Picasso for the costume, and illustration on tracing paper by Ethelbert White as well.

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The lifespan of one illustration of Picasso

- from its creation to the employment on stage and further interpretations 

1
1

Projected costume design by Pablo Picasso for the Chinese Conjuror in the ballet Parade, 1917, Pen and ink on paper

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2
2

Pablo Picasso, “Chinese Conjuror” for the “Parade” ballet, 1917, costume design, completed work

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3

London-printed poster on paper, 1919 with the image of Picasso’s “Chinese Conjuror”

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4

Costume for The Chinese Conjurer in Massine's ballet “Parade” designed by Pablo Picasso, for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, 1917. It consists of Theatre Costume, Dance Costume, Trousers and Hat.

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5
5

The actor wearing Picasso-designed costume of “Chinese Conjuror” during the play, unknown photographer

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6

Illustration by Ethelbert White circa 1920, featuring “Chinese Conjuror” of Picasso

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