The Mimi Legat Collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This collection contains a series of chromolithographs of the Legat brothers' caricature studies of their colleagues and students at the Russian Imperial Ballet, St. Petersburg (c. 1900-05). It includes photographic records of the tours of the Russian provinces made by Nicolas Legat and Nadine Nicolaeva-Legat (1914-23), and later of Nicolas (Nikolai) Legat's ballet studio in London (1929-37) and Nadine Nicolaeva-Legat's vocational ballet boarding school in England (after 1937), featuring prominent ballet dancers of the time. It includes original colour-painted caricatures and pencil drawings by Nicolas Legat, correspondence, legal documents, notebooks, publications and ephemera.

Original hand-painted caricatures by Nicolas Legat include self-portraits, and studies of his pupils Ninette de Valois and Anton Dolin; original pencil drawings depict Arnold Haskell, P.J.S. Richardson and Edwin Evans (c. 1925-35). A large number of chromolithographs of the Legat brothers’ caricatures portray prominent ballet artists associated with the Russian Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg from the late 19th century to early 20th century. They include studies of Agrippina Vaganova, Enrico Cecchetti, Pavel Gerdt, Marie Petipa, Lev Ivanov, Felix Kschessinsky, Mathilde Kschessinska, Serafina Astafieva, and many others; also a photographic print of a caricature of the great teacher, Christian Johansson.

Correspondence in English includes diverse material, such as two unrelated letters: one sent on 22 October 1939 by Josephine Davidson inviting a pupil, Helen (surname unidentified) to dance 'Russian Dances' from Minkus’ Ballet Camargo at a college in Oxford; the second letter is a confirmation of an offer to Mr and Mrs Legat to run the department of dance and the ‘Legat Method’ at a Theatre School in the USA, undated and signed ‘[illegible] Hoffmann’.

Early photographs of Nicolas Legat’s celebrated pupils include images of Nadine Nicolaeva (later Madam Legat), Lubov Egorova, Agrippina Vaganova and Serge Lifar. Photographic albums record the Legat School students, their performances, events and people associated with the School. Photographs show Nicolas and Nadine Legat in various roles throughout their careers; posing with prominent dancers and figures of the 1920s to 1950s, including August (Auguste) Albo and Paul Dukes, and portraits of the Nicolaeva-Legat family.

Assorted documents include miscellaneous items, such as an invoice for piano rental, a certified copy of Count André Chouvalov's (Andrei Shuvalov) death certificate, an article from an unidentified, undated newspaper entitled ‘Mariinsky Theatre’ (in Russian) and a poem about Russian dancers. There are notebooks in Legat’s own hand, containing draft notes (in Russian) for an autobiography.

Publications includes Principles de la danse théâtrale by Paul Raymond, Paris (1925); Tribute to Ballet in poems by John Masefield and pictures by Edward Seaco. Collins, London (1938); Story of the Russian School, by Nicolas Legat, translated with a foreword by Paul Dukes, British-Continental Press Ltd, London: 1932.

There is also a box-set of Win-El-Ware trivet coasters and placemats. Figures featured are ballet dancers of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet including Margot Fonteyn, Beryl Grey, Alicia Markova, Nadia Nerina and Svetlana Beriosova.

This collection also includes materials collected by the Legat brothers’ biographer, John Gregory: both original chromolithographs and photocopied caricatures, sketches and studies created by the Legat brothers, and a draft of a translation of correspondence between August (Auguste) Albo and Nicolas Legat. Some items are copies of well-known caricatures available in print or on commercial websites, while other drawings or sketches are relatively unknown.

Administrative / Biographical History

Nadine Nicolaeva-Legat was a Russian ballet dancer, teacher and choreographer who settled in the UK in the 1920s. She was married to Nicolas (Nikolai) Legat. Nicolas Legat (1869-1937) and his brother Sergei (1875-1905) were dancers, teachers, choreographers and caricaturists. Both worked for the Russian Imperial Ballet, St Petersburg. The brothers worked together to produce caricatures of fellow artists associated with the Imperial Ballet, circa 1900 until Sergei's death in 1905. The brothers often signed jointly, in Russian, 'by N. and S. Legat'. Some caricatures were eventually sold as individual prints or in albums. Nicolas became an important ballet teacher, particularly associated with his 'Class of Perfection' for the graduate class of the Imperial Ballet School. Sergei, regarded as the greater dancer, and a natural successor to Pavel Gerdt as the Premier Danseur noble of the Imperial Ballet, committed suicide at the age of 30.

After leaving Russia with his wife in 1923 Nicolas Legat went on to teach classical ballet in Paris and London, where he eventually settled until his death in 1937. He succeeded Enrico Cecchetti as ballet master to the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, before establishing his renowned studio at Colet Gardens, West Kensington, in 1929-30.

Nicolas Legat introduced his 'Class of Perfection' to the west and continued creating sketches and caricatures throughout his life. His students (and subjects) included Pavlova, Preobrajenska, Vaganova, de Valois and Dolin. His wife, Nadine Nicolaeva-Legat, continued the Legat legacy, teaching the 'Russian School' of classical ballet. In 1939, at the outbreak of WWII, she moved to a small village in Buckinghamshire where she opened a vocational boarding school. In 1945 the school had developed to such an extent that it moved to larger premises in Tunbridge Wells; the Legat School is now incorporated at Bede's School, East Sussex.

The grand-daughter of Nicolas Legat, Mimi Nicolaeva-Legat was a graduate of the Legat School of Russian Ballet, then directed by Legat’s widow, Nadine Nicolaeva. Mimi Legat subsequently danced with the Norwegian Ballet and the Hamburg Ballet before becoming a member of the Ballet Royal de Wallonie from 1971-82, where she performed many Soloist roles. She then moved to the USA, where she currently teaches, drawing directly on the principles of her grandfather’s work. Married to a law Professor, Dan Freeman, who teaches at Washington University, she continues to dance with the Washington National Opera and the Baltimore Opera and choreographs for both these companies (2013).

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for consultation and can be viewed by appointment only. Please contact White Lodge Museum via our website at The Royal Ballet School, White Lodge Museum http://www.royalballetschool.org.uk/the-school/museum/

Acquisition Information

Gift of Mimi Nicolaeva-Legat, 13 December 2012