The G.B.L. Wilson Collection

Scope and Content

This extensive collection contains several early lithographs and engravings depicting ballet dancers or scenes of ballets including: black and white engraving by Cagnoni depicting two Milanese dancers in 1580 (printed c.1775); black and white engraving by Junca entitled Le Sieur Ballon et la Delle Prévost. dans le Ballet d'action de[?] ‘Scythes’ (print undated); coloured engraving of Auguste Vestris subtitled Oh Oui Goose-Toe! (undated); black and white etching depicting a man dancing in the the countryside, with onlookers and a horse-drawn carriage in the background (1769); two engravings of Mademoiselle Heinel at the Paris Opera (c.1772); black and white engraving by Condé after de Janvry depicting Mademoiselle Hiligsberg in Le Jaloux puni (1794); coloured etching by Gillray entitled Modern Grace, or the Operatical Finale to the Ballet of Alonzo e caro (1796); coloured etching by Gillray entitled Operatical Reform, or la Dance a l'Eveque (1798); black and white mezzotint by Lahde depicting A. M. Schall in Nina (c.1805); coloured mezzotint entitled Der Shawl-Tanz (1812); coloured lithograph by Williams entitled Doctor Syntax at the Opera (early 19th century); coloured engraving by Gatine after Lanté depicting Marie Camargo (printed early 19th century).

A series of 37 items, some are books/ booklets of sheet music with illustrated covers, some are sheet music covers only. It includes a book of sheet music entitled The Polka Quadrilles, First Set by James McEwen, illustrated on the cover with a coloured lithograph of a dancing couple (c.1850); sheet music cover illustrated with a coloured lithograph of The Opera Polka danced by Carlotta Grisi and M. Perrot (undated); sheet music cover for Le Pas de Fleurs illustrated with a coloured lithograph of the Danseuses Viennoises (1856); sheet music cover for the song The Starlit Dell by Stephen Glover, illustrated with a coloured lithograph by M & N Hanhart after Brandard (c.1845); sheet music cover for the Celebrated Shawl Dance illustrated with a black and white lithograph depicting Marie Taglioni (c.1840); sheet music cover entitled Jullien's Celebrated Polkas / No. 2. the Royal Polka, illustrated with a coloured lithograph by M & N Hanhart after Brandard (c.1845); sheet music cover for The Cachucha Dance from Le Diable boiteux illustrated with a black and white lithograph by Madelely depicting Pauline Duvernay (c.1840); booklet of sheet music for Les Bayadères illustrated on the cover with a coloured lithograph by J. Rigo, Lebref et Cie. after Emy depicting two female dancers (c.1842); booklet of sheet music for the Valse from Giselle illustrated on the cover with a black and white lithograph by Guillet after Coindre depicting Natalie Fitz and Charles Mabille (c.1845); book of sheet music entitled Opera Stars, illustrated on the cover with a black and white lithograph depicting Marie Taglioni, Fanny Elssler, Fanny Cerrito, and Pauline Duvernay (c.1840).

There are 17 assorted costume designs and colour illustrations including a design by Sophie Fedorovitch for a costume worn by Maude Lloyd in La Fête étrange (c. 1940); illustration by Andrée de Groot depicting 'the Persian slaves' in an unidentified production of Prince Igor (undated); illustration by E. Lander of an unidentified production of Schéhérazade (undated); costume design by Cecil Beaton for an unidentified ballet (undated); costume design by Edward W. Robertson for the character Sprite in Cheenie-Babbies (undated); costume design by Tony Stubbings entitled Minister of Exorcism for a Chinese ballet by Ana Ricarda (1957); seven coloured sketches signed by an unidentified artist [P. M-------] depicting dancers in Prince Igor, Cleopatra, Petrochka[Petrushka], Les Sylphides and Shéhérazade (dated variously 1917 and 1918).

In addition, there are many lithographs and prints depicting various social and domestic activities: for example, a coloured engraving by Alais after Randal entitled 'Group of Waltzers (1817); a series of nine coloured lithographs published c. 1820 under the title Le Bon genre including Mlle Buse et Mons Corset dancing [no.111.]; Le Cache-Cache [no.80] (by Schenker) and Costumes Français et Uniformes Anglais [no.89]; Luxe et Indigence [no.104]; three engravings and etchings by George Cruikshank for example M R C N. TI's [Mercendotti's] leap from the opera or the ballet turned into a ball (1823). A black and white lithograph depicting ballroom dancing (1835); black and white lithograph by J. Caboche, Garnaray & Cie after Malapeau entitled Une leçon de danse (c.1835); black and white lithograph by Bertauts after Gavarni depicting a man talking to a female dancer at sidestage (c. 1840); also one by de Frey after Gavarni entitled Un bal à la Chaussée d'Antin (c.1850); coloured lithograph by Decan entitled La polka en plein air (c.1850).

Several other illustrations comment on life backstage at the Paris Opera including: a cartoon by Rougeron, Vignerot & Cie after Forain, from a series entitled Les mamans (c.1880); several lithographs by Aubert after Beaumont, from the series L'Opéra au XIXme. siècle (undated). In similar vein there is a series of 19 aquatints and etchings of the Paris Opera School and Theatre by Paul Renouard (c. 1895), for example, De la classe de Mlle. Théodore,Classe du 1ere quadrille, a child dressed in a bird costume (standing) kissing the cheek of a seated woman (untitled,1898); also a series of eight black and white etchings of the Paris Opera School and Theatre by Louis Legrand (1893-c.1900), for example Petite ballerina and Quatre danseuse 1 Etat.

Further illustrations comment on performers’ lives in England, for example: coloured lithograph entitled Premières danseuses and their admirers - the Green Room of the Opera House (King's Theatre) 1822; coloured etching entitled Boxing Day Ten am depicting child performers at the theatre (c.1850); coloured engraving entitled Behind the Scenes depicting performers behind a stage curtain (c.1850); black and white lithograph after Calthrop entitled The Little Bread Winner (1889); black and white etching by Laura Knight entitled The Bareback Rider (1935); etching by E. Heber Thompson entitled Interval (1939); colour print entitled British Style for Men, depicting a man backstage in evening dress (c.1950). Also, coloured lithographs, no.1-8, of the series entitled The Pet of the Ballet (published 1843-44) depicting the front and back views of unnamed female dancers.

There are a large number of coloured illustrations of theatrical costumes, for example a coloured engraving by Maleuvre depicting Mazilier as d'Ismàïl in La Révolte au sérail (c.1830) and a coloured lithograph by Engelmann depicting Fanny Bias as Elise in Les Pages du duc de Vendôme (c.1830).

An extensive collection of 19th century lithographs and engravings, some are coloured, depicting leading male and female ballet dancers between c.1820 and c.1895. Among those featured are: Albert [François Decombe] (1820), Émilie Bigottini (c.1820), Mademoiselle Hullin (1822), Lise Noblet (c.1825), Maria Mercandotti (c.1825), Louis Milon (c.1830), Paolo Samengo and Amalia Brugnoli (1832), Francisco Font and Manuela Dubinon (1834), Marie Taglioni (c.1830-45), Fanny Elssler (c.1830-45), Carlotta Grisi (c.1830-50), Lucile Grahn (c.1840), Clara Vestris Webster (c.1840), Fanny Cerrito (1842); Fanny Cerrito and Arthur Saint-Léon (1843), Adèle Dumilâtre (1843), Pauline Leroux (1843), Jules Perrot (c.1845), Augusta Nielson (c.1845); Sophie Dumilâtre and Mr Hoguet (c.1845), Adeline Plunkett (1847), Carolina Rosati (c.1850), Marie Cabel (1853), Paul Taglioni (1856), Pepita de Oliva (c.1860), Nadezhda Bogdanova (c.1860); Juliette Price, Amalia [Amalie] Price and Valdemar Price (c.1870), and Rosita Mauri (c.1883-95).

Illustrative material: two coloured prints of posters advertising a performance of La Loïe Fuller at the Folies-Bergére, and the venue Palais de Glace at Champs-Elysées (c.1895); sepia photograph by Chalot depicting Julia Subra (c.1895); coloured sketch by Tony Stubbings depicting Éthéry Pagava at the Edinburgh Festival in 1950; also a pencil sketch portrait of G. B. L. Wilson by Nancy Litten (1971).

Press cuttings from The Illustrated London News June 24 1848 featuring a coloured lithograph entitled 'Scene from the new ballet of Les quatre saisons, at Her Majesty's Theatre’. Black and white engraving of a cartoon depicting Pepita Duran (c.1850); coloured photograph reproduced in an unidentified magazine depicting Adeline Genée and Dorothy Craske in Coppélia at the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square (1906-07).

Some press cuttings about Galina Ulanova, Margot Fonteyn, and Misia Sert (née Maria Sophie Godebska). Also contains newspaper reviews of books about Valery and Galina Panov, Margot Fonteyn, Anna Pavlova, and Serge Diaghilev.


  • Items on the subject of Anna Pavlova including a newsletter from the Pavlova Society and a letter to Wilson which includes a recipe for the dessert ‘Pavlova’
  • An invitation to a Service of Thanksgiving in memory of Diaghilev (16 September 1979)
  • Set of Cuban postage stamps commemorating the Festival Internacional de Ballet of 1967
  • Cast list for a performance of Besøget i Kjøbenhavn, a comedy in 4 Acts by Professor H. Hertz, at Det Kongelige Theatre, Copenhagen (7 October 1862)
  • An English Ballet Folio entitled The Rake's Progress, illustrated by Sheila Graham and written by P.W. Manchester, no. 1 of the Ballet Folios (May 1945). Features illustrations of Robert Helpmann as the Rake in the Ninette de Valois’ ballet of 1935
  • Hardback book entitled The complete works of William Hogarth: in a series of one hundred and fifty steel engravings from the original pictures by William Hogarth, published by the London Printing and Publishing Company (undated)
  • Letter from Helene Obolensky to Wilson on the subject of the Rudolf Nureyev book by Clive Barnes, and Wilson’s reply to Obolensky (1983)
  • Letter from Wilson to Ninette de Valois, sent with photographs of Sophie Fedorovitch, dated 15 March 1957

An extensive collection of photographs depict The Royal Ballet School annual matinée performances at the Royal Opera House (sometimes the Theatre Royal), Wimbledon, Richmond and Holland Park Court Theatres. They are arranged by date and venues (1959-84).

An extensive collection of photographs of School activities (1966-84) recording a range of events including: an event to mark affiliation of The Royal Ballet School to the National Union of Students (1966); pupils performing the play A Midsummer Night's Dream in the grounds of White Lodge (July 1968); official opening of the Ashton Studio at White Lodge (June 1970); Richard Glasstone teaching Form III boys at White Lodge (1970); Cecchetti Summer Schools (1970-76); Anton Dolin rehearsing Wayne Sleep at The Royal Ballet School (1972); Eileen Ward teaching (1974); demonstration at Upper School with Kenneth MacMillan (1975); auditions for Upper School in the Baylis Hall, with Cyril Beaumont present (1976); Alicia Markova teaching Royal Ballet School students (1977); Choreographic Course with Norman Morrice (1977); Upper School Halloween Party (1979); Patricia Linton teaching girls at White Lodge (1980); White Lodge 25th birthday party (6 July 1980); rehearsal for Les Deux pigeons with Nicola Roberts (1981); a visit by guest teacher Martin Puttke (4 November 1983); a rehearsal of Frederick Ashton’s Pas de légumes by the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet (1983).

A series of 14 black and white photographs of Sophie Fedorovitch: at her home in a converted barn at Brancaster, Norfolk (undated); at the Trevi Fountain, Rome (undated); with Frederick Ashton, Margot Fonteyn and Pamela May during a rehearsal of Nocturne at the Princes Theatre (1944); with Birger Bartholin watching a rehearsal at the Royal Opera House, Cophenhagen (1952). Also a photograph of Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes in a Sadler's Wells Ballet performance of Symphonic Variations, with sets and costumes designed by Fedorovitch (1946).

A series of 43 colour photographs supports the provenance of the G.B.L. Wilson collection. It comprises two portraits of G.B.L. Wilson, as well as photographs of his private collection consisting of lithographs, statuettes and illustrations. Some of the photographs show the collection as it was originally displayed in his home, others show individual objects.

Printed material relating to Fedorovitch includes a copy of a booklet entitled Sophie Fedorovitch: a biographical sketch by Simon Fleet (1955); a copy of a book entitled Sophie Fedorovitch: Tributes and Attributes, compiled by Simon Fleet (1955); news cuttings; a catalogue for the memorial exhibition Sophie Fedorovitch at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (1955); obituary for Simon Fleet, Fedorovitch biographer, by Cecil Beaton (published 18 December 1966).

Material kept separately from this collection and incorporated into The Royal Ballet School reference collections includes books housed in the Arnold Haskell Dance Library, White Lodge: these largely focus on ballet history from the early 1820s. The books are usually identified with a G.B.L. Wilson stamp, and many are inscribed to him personally by authors such as Ivor Guest and Joan Lawson.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Buckley Laird Wilson (1908-1984), known to his friends in the dance world as ‘GB’ was a science graduate of Cambridge University who maintained a distinguished career as a Chartered Engineer, whilst being an influential dance historian, writer and facilitator. He was Deputy Keeper of the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at the Science Museum, London, and a Fellow of the Institute of Gas Engineers. He was also a Member of the Grand Council of the Royal Academy of Dancing (or R.A.D., later the Royal Academy of Dance), and Hon. Curator of the British Theatre Museum from its creation in 1957 (later the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance). Wilson was vice-chairman of the R.A.D. Production Club from 1946, and he founded the Association of Ballet Clubs in 1947. He was a close colleague of Arnold Haskell, who appointed him associate editor of his Ballet Annual publication from 1948 until the final edition of 1963. Haskell also encouraged Wilson to use his encyclopaedic knowledge of ballet to edit a Dictionary of Ballet (first published by Penguin Books, 1957; second edition published by Cassell & Co, 1961; third edition by A&C Black Ltd, 1974). Wilson was a keen photographer of ballet from 1941, and his prolific black-and-white shots of performances and social events form a fascinating record of the dance milieu of his time. These photographs often illustrated his ‘Off Stage’ column, published monthly in the Dancing Times from 1957-84. Wilson was also the London ballet correspondent for the American journal Dance News and the Jewish Chronicle. In a voluntary capacity, ‘GB’ Wilson was a careers adviser to students of The Royal Ballet School from 1967, and the ballet librarian from 1971.


Arranged in five series including: illustrations and engravings (RBS/WIL/ILL), photographs (RBS/WIL/PHO), personal papers (RBS/WIL/PER), publications (RBS/WIL/PUB) and printed material relating to Sophie Fedorovitch and her friend and biographer Simon Fleet (RBS/WIL/FED).

Access Information

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

Acquisition Information

Bequest of G.B.L. Wilson, 1984

Related Material

The G.B.L. Wilson Photographic Archive at the Royal Academy of Dance.