Collection of material relating to the Stannus family

Scope and Content

The collection includes some documentary and photographic records of several members of the Stannus/Graydon Smith family, but focuses principally on the life and work of Ninette the Valois [Edris Stannus] and Gordon Anthony [James Gordon Dawson Stannus].

A series of papers of the Stannus family contains a draft of the family tree; certified copies of birth, marriage and death certificates; the Graydon Smith family record (direct line only) taken from the public record office in Dublin; a copy of an article about Sir Ephraim G. Stannus; also four letters from Ronald Stannus to T.J.G. Stannus (dated 1984-90) about some family members’ emigration to Australia. Also a three-page account of Gordon Anthony and his father, T.R.A. Stannus, and a two-page memoir of Ninette de Valois written by a nephew.

Stannus Family photographs (all undated) portray family members including Graydon Grant Harvey Stannus together with his children Elizabeth and James; Elizabeth Graydon Smith and her mother Fanny Harvey; Elizabeth Graydon Smith with her children Thelma, Edris, Gordon, and Trevor Stannus; Thomas Robert Alexander Stannus in a group photo of the 2nd Section 45th Imperial Yeomanry, and a photograph of his war grave in France; Ninette de Valois [Edris Stannus] and her husband Dr. Arthur Connell. Also, photographs and a drawing of Baltiboys Estate, County Wicklow, Ireland.

A memorial bronze plaque to Thomas Robert Alexander Stannus, who fell during WWI, and a memorial scroll, issued to the next of kin of serving men and women who died between 4 August 1914 and 10 January 1920.

Several press cuttings contain a print of extracts from press opinions on Irish concerts, including an assessment of Lilith Stannus's voice for the Concert Voice Trial at Bechstein Hall (1911); an account of Thomas Robert Alexander Stannus (undated); an article on the autobiography of Mrs Smith of Baltiboys Memoirs of a Highland Lady (undated); an article (1993) reporting interest in the sale of Baltiboys House; also an article about Elizabeth Graydon-Bradley's priceless collection of china (undated).

Papers associated with Ninette de Valois:

Contains 26 handwritten letters (1980-96) between Edris (Ninette de Valois) and other Stannus family members, particularly Jamie [Thomas James Graydon Stannus] and Diana Stannus. They exchange general family news and discuss occasions including de Valois’ meeting with Diana, Princess of Wales (1988); a folk dance celebration at the Upper School in de Valois’ honour; her receipt of fine prints from the Turkish State Ballet Academy (1990); a description of her appearance on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs (1991); also her comments on The Royal Ballet’s New York tour (1991). A typed account by Helen Quinnel (de Valois’ secretary) of the Turkish Ambassador's visit to Ninette de Valois at her home in Barnes, to present an award for her services to Turkish Ballet (13 January 1998), is enclosed with some correspondence.

Other de Valois correspondence includes a letter sent from Cardiff (dated 10 June 1988), from the son of a soldier present when de Valois’ father was fatally injured while on active service in France during WWI. Also one from Sir Edward Ford, St James’ Palace and R. J. Malloch (November 1991) congratulating de Valois on her appointment as a member of the Order of Merit. There is also a photocopy of a handwritten letter from Margot Fonteyn reporting on her life in Panama (1980).

There are a number of small calling cards from admirers, soldiers on leave, who left messages for de Valois at the stage door (1914-19); also telegrams and cards sent to de Valois on her eightieth and ninetieth birthdays (1978 and 1988).

There are six photographic copies of programmes (1919-28) for the operas La Traviata, Armide,Samson et Delila,Louise,Thais, and Aida at the Royal Opera House, all crediting de Valois as ‘première danseuse’.

Undated manuscripts by de Valois contain typescripts of unpublished stories including: Cocktail Party, Miss Smith, Easter Bonnet, The Shells, Eat Up Your Porridge, The Adolescent, The Old Retainer: A Portrait, And Not Your Golden Hair [sic], Summer Day, Hell Fire Girl (handwritten draft); the typescript of Winter Night alongside a published copy in an unidentified magazine; the typescript of The Prison - a play in one act, and a typescript of poems containing a foreword by Lord Drogheda. Also, handwritten notes by Ninette de Valois on the structure of poetry.

Press cuttings and articles covering de Valois’ retirement as Director of The Royal Ballet (1963), her teaching and work for The Royal Ballet School (1957-97), and marking her birthdays (1978, 1988 and 1998); also posthumous tributes and obituaries (2001). There are cuttings (1996) relating to the fiftieth anniversary of the first night of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet production of The Sleeping Beauty at the reopening of the Royal Opera House in 1946.

A series of photographic material portraying de Valois contains black and white studio portraits of her in costume on a number of occasions: as a child (c. 1910); with members of the Lila Field company (1913); performing The Swan Dance (1913); as principal dancer in the Lyceum Pantomime (1914): standing on pointe in a tunic with loose hair (1915); with the Massine-Lopokova Company (1922); as Papillon in Carnaval (1923) and in Les Fâcheux (undated). Also 12 black and white studio portraits of de Valois (1914-96) by various photographers, including Gordon Anthony, Claude Harris, Jitendra Arya and Allan Chappelow.

There are photographs of de Valois being awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Music by the University of London (1947); with Chester Hale, Ruth Page, and Tom Fisher (undated); with members of the Sadler's Wells Ballet at the home of Princess Radziwill (undated); with Ursula Morton (undated); de Valois on stage after the first performance of Birthday Offering (1956); with Wayne Sleep and Alicia Markova (undated); on the occasion of receiving an award in Turkey (1974); with HRH The Prince of Wales at a gala performance in New York (June 1981), and with HM Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of receiving the Order of Merit (2 January 1992). Also 47 colour photographs taken on the day of the celebration of her one hundredth birthday at White Lodge (1998).

Audio-visual material includes: two audio cassettes containing tributes to Ninette de Valois (5 April 2001); ‘Ninette de Valois 100th Birthday’ speeches (1998); Come Dance With Me in Ireland (undated); River 2000 Project (2000), and a video recording of Checkmate (undated).

Papers associated with Gordon Anthony:

Includes correspondence from various people, for example Margot Fonteyn (letters dated 1942, 1950 and 1980), Anthony Dowell (undated), and the conservationist, Peter Scott (1980); also a number of letters congratulating him on his exhibition Shadowlands at the National Portrait Gallery (1988).

A number of press cuttings on his life and work, including obituaries (1936-89).

Gordon Anthony’s photographic collection contains original stamped prints taken on stage and in his studio, also some informal shots of friends and dancers (1930-1949). Includes a photograph taken at the opening of the Academy of Choreographic Art (1926), and several stage photographs of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Opera House (1946). Also Ram Gopal as the Golden Eagle in Garuda (c. 1939). Many studio portraits feature dancers of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, the Camargo Ballet Society, Rambert’s Ballet Club and the Vic-Wells Ballet. These include:

Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo: Alexandra Danilova in L'Oiseau de feu; David Lichine in Protée; Frederic Franklin as the Warrior Chief in Polovtsian Dances; Irina Baronova as the Queen in Shemakhan and in Cotillon; Léonide Massine as the Miller in Le Tricorne; Nana Gollner as Odette in Le Lac des cygnes; Olga Morosova as the Firebird in The Firebird; Lubov Tchernicheva as Thamar Queen of Georgia in Thamar; Nini Theilade in Nobilissima visione; Serge Lifar as Albrecht in Giselle; Tamara Toumanova as the Young Girl in Le Spectre de la rose; Tatiana Riabouchinska as the Cockerel in Le Coq d'Or and Yurek Shabelevsky as the Negro Slave in Schéhérazade; Vera Nemchinova in L'Epreuve d'amour; Yvette Chauvire in Chota Roustavelli.

Vic-Wells (later Sadler’s Wells) Ballet, Rambert’s Ballet Club and the Camargo Society: Anton Dolin as Satan in Job, and as Albrecht in Giselle; Alexander Grant as the Black King in Bonne bouche; Alexis Rassine as the Red Knight in Checkmate; Alicia Markova as La Bien-aimée in The Haunted Ballroom; Beryl Grey as the Black Queen in Checkmate; Celia Franca as the Queen of the Wilis in Giselle; Claude Newman as Dr Coppélius in Coppélia, and in the Danse Buffon from Casse-noisette; David Paltenghi as Prince Florimund in The Sleeping Beauty; Elizabeth Miller as Columbine in Le Carnaval; Frederick Ashton in Façade; Harold Turner in Barabau; Hugh Laing as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet; John Field as Prince Florimund in The Sleeping Beauty; Joy Newton as Beatrice in The Haunted Ballroom; Julia Farron as the Bread Crumb Fairy in The Sleeping Princess, as Pépé in A Wedding Bouquet, in The Haunted Ballroom and as Psyche in Cupid and Psyche; June Brae as the Black Queen in Checkmate; Leslie Edwards as Catalabutte in The Sleeping Beauty, and as Hilarion in Giselle; Margot Fonteyn as the Young Woman in Horoscope, as the Bride in The Wise Virgins, as Venus in The Judgement of Paris, as the Young Treginnis in The Haunted Ballroom, in the title role in Giselle, also in The Wanderer, and in Nocturne; Mary Honer as Swanilda in Coppélia; Michael Somes as Monseigneur in Harlequin in the Street, and in Tiresias; Moira Shearer as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty; Nadia Nerina in Les Sylphides; Ninette de Valois as a Peasant Woman in Barabau, as Swanhilda in Coppélia and in Douanes; Pamela May as Odette in Le Lac de Cygnes, and as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Casse-noisette; Pauline Clayden as The Suicide in Miracle in the Gorbals; Pearl Argyle as the Fairy in Le Baiser de la fée, in The Gods go a-Begging and as Venus in The Judgement of Paris; Robert Helpmann as Mr O'Reilly in The Prospect Before Us, as Orpheus in Orpheus and Eurydice, as Dr Coppélius in Coppélia and as Albrecht in Giselle; Svetlana Beriosova as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Casse-noisette; Ursula Moreton as the President's Wife in Casse-noisette; Violetta Elvin in Les Sylphides; William Chappell in Job and The Gods Go a-Begging.

There are several studio portraits (1930-1949), mostly head-shots of: Arthur Bliss, Cecil Beaton, Colonel Wassily de Basil, Constant Lambert, Gertrude Stein, John Gielgud, Lord Berners, Lydia Lokopova, Marie Rambert, Margot Fonteyn, Maria Tallchief, Mikhail Fokine, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Nadia Benois, Pearl Argyle, Peggy Ashcroft, Robert Helpmann, Serge Lifar, Thomas Beecham, Vivien Leigh and W.B.Yeats. Also, Ninette de Valois in wartime English National Entertainment Association (E.N.S.A) uniform.

There are several photographs unrelated to the theatre, which Gordon Anthony took whilst working as a photographer in the Royal Air Force (RAF) during WWII.

Assorted papers include a list of Anthony’s published books (1935-80) attached to a typed paper entitled A Photobiography; a flyer advertising two of his early books; an article from The Dancing Times about Ninette de Valois and ‘Lila Field's Russian Ballet’ (undated); two pages of handwritten notes which appear to relate to Anthony’s research into Stannus family history; a press release (November 1983) announcing an exhibition of his photographs curated and produced by the Victoria and Albert Museum at the Sadler's Wells Theatre (December 1983 - January 1984); a specimen invitation card to his exhibition Shadowlands at the National Portrait Gallery (opening date 20 July 1988); a programme for a Service of Thanksgiving for Gordon Anthony (1989); and a typed tribute written by Margot Fonteyn which was read on her behalf by Michael Somes at his Service of Thanksgiving (undated).

Administrative / Biographical History

Edris Stannus, known professionally as Ninette de Valois (6 June 1898 - 8 March 2001), was an Irish-born British dancer, teacher, choreographer and director; she was the principal founder of The Royal Ballet School, The Royal Ballet and Royal Birmingham Ballet. Born in County Wicklow, Ireland, she moved to Walmer in Kent aged seven, where she began to study dancing. At the age of fourteen, having adopted the stage name Ninette de Valois, she became a leading member of the touring troupe known as ‘Lila Field’s Wonder Children’. She left the group after the outbreak of war in 1914, and began to feature as a Soloist in London’s major venues, including the Lyceum, the Palladium, and the Coliseum. In 1919, at the age of 21, she was appointed Principal dancer of the Beecham Opera and Ballet Company, then in 1922, she appeared with the Massine-Lopokova Company in London; the following year – on the recommendation of her teacher, Cecchetti – she joined the Diaghilev Ballets Russes (1923-25, returning as a guest artist in 1926).

De Valois was determined that England should have an indigenous ballet, and in 1926 she opened her own school, The Academy of Choreographic Art. Intending to attach her students to a repertory theatre, she approached Lilian Baylis, the Manager of the Old-Vic, who agreed that de Valois could arrange dances for the theatre’s dramatic repertoire, performed by her students. In return, de Valois’ school would eventually be housed at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, then being re-built under Baylis’ direction. This plan came into effect in 1931, by which time six of de Valois’ graduates had formed the core of a repertory company; this now performed in both of Baylis’ theatres, becoming known as the Vic-Wells Ballet.

De Valois’ multiple talents set the rising standards in every sphere of School and Company life, as Principal dancer, director and teacher; she was also a highly versatile choreographer. Performing in her own dance compositions at Terence Gray’s experimental Cambridge Festival Theatre (1926-31), her work also became central to the dance-dramas of William Butler Yeats at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin (1927-34). For the Camargo Ballet Society she created Job (1931), and for her own Company The Rake’s Progress (1935), Checkmate (1937), and The Prospect Before Us (1940), among many others. De Valois’ principal contribution as a choreographer was made between 1928-43, after which her duties as Director became paramount. Following the awarding of a Royal Charter in 1956 the institution she led was renamed The Royal Ballet School, The Royal Ballet and the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet (the predecessor of today’s Birmingham Royal Ballet). De Valois retired as director of The Royal Ballet in 1963, and was succeeded by Frederick Ashton. She continued to play an active role until she was in her nineties, as a Life Governor of The Royal Ballet School and Companies.

James Gordon Dawson Stannus (23 December 1902 - 21 July 1989) was the brother of Ninette de Valois (born Edris Stannus) and was educated at St. Paul’s School, London. Known professionally as Gordon Anthony, he was a celebrated theatrical photographer, whose distinctive images captured the vitality and glamour of British ballet and dramatic theatre, most notably during the 1930s and 1940s. His studio portraits often depicted leading performers in character roles, lit as if for the stage, with heightened shadow effects. His work was regularly featured in the Tatler, The Dancing Times and in his many volumes of published photographs. These included studies of the rising stars of British ballet, such as Alicia Markova, Robert Helpmann and Margot Fonteyn, as well as vivid records of the contemporary ballet repertoire. His work was instrumental in helping to boost the popularity in England of the de Basil Ballets Russes, and that of the home-grown Vic-Wells (later Sadler’s Wells) Ballet, founded by his sister in 1931. During WWII he gained the rank of Flight Lieutenant in the service of the Royal Air Force, as an official portrait photographer to the Air Ministry. A retrospective exhibition of his work, Shadowlands, the Photographs of Gordon Anthony 1926-52, was held at the National Portrait Gallery in 1988. He bequeathed his work to the Theatre Collections, V&A Museum, London.

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

On indefinite loan from the Stannus family

Custodial History

This collection was collated by members of the Stannus family from around 1900; it was in the immediate care of Alexander Stannus until 2009, when it was placed with The Royal Ballet School Collections, White Lodge Museum. It consists of assorted documents, journals, ephemera and photographs. Where distinct groupings of material existed prior to cataloguing, these have been respected and maintained. Where appropriate, loose and unallocated material has been integrated into established series within the collection, or grouped thematically.