How a crumbling roof in Dorset brought a Ballets Russes’ gallery to Australia

I first saw these Ballets Russes’ drawings at Martyn Cook’s antique showroom in Queen Street, Woollahra in 2009.

They’ve intrigued me ever since. Who was the artist, Cecil Waller? And how did they end up in Australia?

It’s taken three years to find out. The nine drawings (one is not shown here) were sold as part of a large collection owned by Thomas Hamel Interiors and Martyn Cook Antiques, auctioned by Mossgreen on May 20 in Sydney.

The drawings fetched $4636, about half the expected price of around $1000 each.

The English name of the artist, and the date on most of the drawings, 1933, meant they might have been done in London when Col. de Basil and Rene Blum’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo was performing at the Alhambra. In 1934, the company, then called Ballets Russes du Col. de Basil, performed at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Seven of the nine drawings are of dancers, another is a portrait of Nina Milkina, a Russian pianist who lived in London in the 1930s and another of Sir Charles Alexander Petrie, an English historian and journalist who was for a while the literary editor of New English Review.

Information on the artist was scarce but I discovered that he was born in 1908, which meant he was only 25 when he did the drawings.

I found online a copy of a painting by Cecil Waller of Cranborne Chase, in Dorset, a place that attracted many artists for the beauty its escarpments and woodlands. The landscape appealed to Augustus John and later, the artist John Craxton who painted in the district with his friend, the young Lucian Freud.

Craxton’s uncle was Cecil Waller who lived in London with his wife, Amy. In 1934, the Wallers moved to Dorset where they bought a cottage at Minchington. To supplement the small income from his art works, Cecil worked at the Eastbury Estate in Dorset, once one of the finest Georgian stately homes in England.

But how did the drawings make their way to Australia? The journey began when Pamela Jackson, an Australian who, with her husband, lived in London, met Waller and his wife at their Dorset cottage. Pamela was an avid ballet fan who often enjoyed performances at Covent Garden.

At the cottage, she saw the rolled up drawings of the dancers and thought how representative they were of the time and place, the ‘30s in London. Weller told Pamela that his female cousin, a dancer herself, introduced him to the Ballets Russes’ dancers in London.

In 1984, living once again in Australia, Pamela heard that Cecil wanted to sell some artworks in order to get the money to fix his cottage roof. She bought the set of nine and hung them in the family home in Sydney.

Waller died in England in 1993.

A few years ago, when the Jacksons downsized to a beach house on the New South Wales coast, Pamela sold the drawings to Martyn Cook.

I’m not sure yet which of three potential bidders bought the drawings – a London group, a former dancer who lives in Melbourne or a Melbourne foundation. (I’ll update soon.)

7 Comments

  1. Adrian Ryan
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    This is a most welcome post, Valerie. I had noticed these drawings in the Mossgreen catalogue but, being in Melbourne, I was not able to view them and only experience the via the reproductions in the catalogue. Your research confirms my feelings about the drawings probably having been done from life and not from photographs. They capture the youth and freshness of the early period before the Max Factorisation set in. Baronova appears to be posing in her Presages costume and Toumanova in her Sylphides costume. It is good to have another take on these magical artists, especially from their prime period. Thank you for posting the images so we can view them in a fairly large format.

  2. valerie
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Adrian, I’m glad you saw the freshness in these drawings. Although photos of Ballets Russes’ dancers by Maurice Seymour and Max Dupain are powerful in their own way, I agree that it is sometimes difficult to see the person under the makeup and artfully draped costumes!

  3. Marilyn Ashmead Craig
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I am a friend of Cecil’s daughter Elizabeth Waller who was fascinated to hear about your feature. Elizabeth still lives in this same cottage, where she was born. And the roof is still crumbling – as is the way with thatch! Elizabeth remembers these drawings well. Funnily enough she was wondering what had happened to them only recently and would love to know more, as and when you find out. Elizabeth is not online so I am sending her a paper copy of your article and photos and will forward any further news. She is the first cousin of the late John Craxton, who often visited the cottage, and a friend of his biographer Ian Collins who is also interested in Cecil’s work.

  4. valerie
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Marilyn, as luck would have it, I’ve just been able to write about the buyer of the drawings, the Tallis Foundation in the state of Victoria. All the details are on the post I’ve just written (on June 26, 2012.)

  5. Marilyn Ashmead Craig
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Valerie – I’ve posted a comment on that page. As per Adrian Ryan’s comment above, Cecil’s daughter Elizabeth has confirmed that the drawings were indeed “done from life and not from photographs”. That was how Cecil always worked. One of his and wife Amy’s many artistic activities was scene painting and in 1932 they were restoring some of Ballets Russes’ famous stage sets in London. This was how they got to know the dancers. It helped that Cecil spoke some Russian and French. He may have done the drawings backstage. Elizabeth still has a tiny wooden Russian box given to her parents by Leonide Massine, by then choreographer and male lead dancer. After buying the country cottage, Cecil and Amy often stayed in London and remained part of the exciting Arts scene there. They also knew painters and musicians in the Post-War era. Elizabeth was regaled with stories of earlier years and later met many artistes herself, in London or at the cottage.

  6. Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Have just found out that John Craxton’s father and Elizabeth’s uncle Harold taught piano to Nina Milkina, the subject of one of his brother-in-law Cecil’s drawings on this page. She was sent from Russia to London aged 6 to learn – and stayed. Harold is also seen on film footage following Dame Nellie Melba aboard a liner and may have accompanied her in Australia as well as London. Great connections!

  7. Philippa Weitz
    Posted March 30, 2015 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Hello – I came across this website and thought I’d add a little more of the history.

    My mother and Cecil were second cousins, but very close. Cecil (known as Bim to me) and Amy were like grandparents to me, absolutely wonderful people, I spent so many of my school holidays with Liz and Bim and Amy.

    It was I who introduced Pamela and Geoffrey Jackson to Bim just before they went back to Australia permanently in the ’80s.

    I saw all these pictures hanging in their flat and they took wonderful care of them in the fabulous location in McMahon’s Point overlooking Sydney Harbour – certainly it was a wonderful setting for them.

    Funnily enough (and I can’t remember what it is) there is a link between the Ballets Russes and Melbourne, which is where I gather the pictures now are.

    If anyone wants more history and background bout the family I might be able to help.

    There is currently an exhibition of John Craxton and Cecil Waller’s work at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester, UK.

    There will be a talk on Cecil’s work on 9th April at the museum. http://www.dorsetcountymuseum.org/events?item=561

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

Irina Baronova 1933

Irina Baronova 1933

Tamara Toumanova 1934

Tamara Toumanova 1934

Tatiana Riabouchinska 1933

Tatiana Riabouchinska 1933

Leon Woizikovsky 1933

Leon Woizikovsky 1933

Yurek Shabelevsky 1933

Yurek Shabelevsky 1933

David Lichine 1933

David Lichine 1933

Nina Milkina 1933

Nina Milkina 1933

Olga Kobseva (incorrectly captioned Vera Kobzeva)

Olga Kobseva (incorrectly captioned Vera Kobzeva)