Maurice Sendak: set & costume designer

Maurice Sendak became famous as an illustrator and author of children’s books, most notably the all-time classic 1963’s Where the Wild Things Are, but his artistic abilities and interests lent themselves to much larger formats. The most wonderful mural a children’s room ever had, hand-painted by Sendak for his close friends two years before the publication of Where the Wild Things Are made him a household name, hints at what he was capable on a grand scale. Now housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s South Philly branch, it is Sendak’s only known mural.

Almost 20 years would pass before he expanded beyond the dimensions of the page and began a second career as a designer of theatrical sets and costumes. Sendak was a great opera fan. In the late 1970s, he began creating designs for operas and ballets

A new exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City opens this summer to explore this little-known aspect of Sendak’s extraordinary artistry. Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet exhibits 150 drawings from the Morgan’s collection of nearly 1,000 Sendak drawings focusing on his five most important stage productions: Mozart’s Magic Flute, Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen, Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and an opera based on Where the Wild Things Are. The works include early sketches and studies, storyboards, watercolors, and painted dioramas. The exhibition also includes earlier pieces on loan from The Maurice Sendak Foundation’s collection of 10,000 Sendak works, and some surviving props and costumes from the productions.

A selection of eighteenth and nineteenth-century works from the Morgan’s collection by artists who influenced Sendak will be displayed alongside his designs. Throughout his career, Sendak drew inspiration from his visits to the Morgan, particularly his encounters with the compositions of Mozart, and the drawings of William Blake and Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo. The Morgan’s diverse holdings of music manuscripts, autograph letters, printed books, and Old Master drawings mirrored Sendak’s own wide-ranging passion for music, art, and literature. […]

“Few people know that Maurice Sendak had a long and productive relationship with the Morgan. It is exciting to focus on his work as a theater designer, which is an often overlooked but important aspect of his career as an artist,” said Director of the museum, Colin B. Bailey. […]

“This exhibition will be a wonderful surprise to those who are familiar with Sendak primarily through his beloved books,” said Rachel Federman, Assistant Curator in the Modern and Contemporary Drawings Department and the curator of the exhibition. “His designs for opera and ballet have all the beauty, humor, and complexity of his picture books and illustrations, but they also put on full display his passion for art, art history, and music.”

The exhibition opens June 14th and runs through October 6th, 2019.