Lithographed Portraits in the Dance Collections of the Houghton Library
Lithographed portraits of dancers form an important part of the iconography of ballet during the mid-19th century. Yet there is neither a systematic multi-national catalogue nor, in the absence of this essential resource, is there a body of scholarly research that addresses the particular issues raised by the image of the stage dancer as celebrity during that extraordinary period of creativity and choreographic excellence that we have come to know as the Romantic Ballet. What there is of such research tends to be based on textual rather than iconographic sources. The focus of my current research at the Houghton Library is the celebrity portrait and its relationship to the more frequently encountered theatrical portrait - the latter of the dancer in costume and often in role, the former of the dancer in his or her position as a celebrated member of contemporary society. The boundary between these two representations of dancers - in role and as social identities - is clearly delineated by publishing practice, artistic convention, context and content. It is this tense binary that provides opportunities for future scholarship, as have past excavations of the iconography of celebrity and the eighteenth-century stage.
John Gill is 2015/16 Bader Fellow in the Visual Arts of the Theatre, part of the Visiting Fellowships Programme at Harvard College, researching Lithographed Portraits in the Dance Collections at the Houghton Library. He is Chair of Trustees of Camden Arts Centre, and of The Westgate Trust, and a founder member of the Board of the recently established Stuart Croft Foundation. He was formerly Chair of the Fine Arts at The British School at Rome and a member of Council (Trustee). He is now retired from a career as Director and Curator of galleries in the public sector where his exhibitions and publications included Boxer (MIT Press/INIVA) and Alien Nation (ICA/INIVA). He has collected ballet lithographs of the early Victorian period since the 1970s after curating two exhibitions of such material at the South Bank Centre, the last in collaboration with the V & A Theatre Museum.