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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Thr 861

George Chaffee collection of dance prints and original drawings

The George Chaffee collection of dance prints and original drawings contains engravings, lithographs, pastels, sketches, pen and ink drawings, and a single photograph from throughout the history of ballet, including portraits of dancers, costume designs, images of groups or scenes from performances, and scenographic designs.


  • circa 1613-1921, undated

Language of Materials

Collection is in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Russian.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material. Collection is open for research.


16.25 linear feet (4 boxes, 89 oversize folders, and 4 frames)

Consists of engravings, lithographs, pastel sketches, pen and ink drawings, sketches, and a single photograph relating to ballet and ballet dancers from the early seventeenth to early twentieth centuries, across France, Italy, England, Germany, the United States, and Russia.

Series I contains engraved, lithographic, and photographic portraits of ballet dancers, mostly individually, by name, which were created as souvenirs for audience members and ballet devotees. The portraits include depictions of dancers in specific ballets or costumes, while others are more general situations or even seated portraits. Dancers include: Amalia Brugnoli (active 1820-1840), Fanny Cerrito, Pauline Yolande Marie Louise Duvernay (1813-1894), Fanny Elssler (1810-1884), Flora Fabri, Carlotta Grisi (1819-1899), Jules Perrot (1810-1892), Louise Pierson, Marie Taglioni, (1804-1884), among many others.

Series II contains engravings and lithographs of costume designs from ballet and dance productions, ballet-related caricatures, and depictions of ballet scenes and groups of ballet dancers. Costume designs are attributed to Jean Berain (possibly also known as Joan Berin) and his son, as well as the atelier of the Bonnart family, Hautecoeur-Martinette, and others. Ballet-related caricatures, mainly from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, were created by S.W. Fores (1761-1838), J.J. Grandville, also known as Jean-Ignace Gerard (1803-1847), Hannah Humphrey (active 1774-1817). Additionally included is a series of caricatures of Marie Taglioni (1804-1884) and Jules Perrot (1810-1892) in Flore and Zephyr created by William Makepeace Thackery (1811-1863), under the pseudonym Theophile Wagstaff, with Edward Morton. The scenes depict groups of dancers, such as groups of contemporary popular women dancers, or specific scenes from ballets, such as Carnival Scenes by Engelbrecht and scenes of circus dancers from Der Berggeist by Friedrich Horschelt.

Series III consists of original drawings relating to ballet, including portraits, costume designs, and depictions of groups and scenes, spanning the eighteenth century to drawings relating to the Ballet Russe in the early twentieth century. Included are two drawings by Nataliia Sergeevna Goncharova (1881-1962), six pastel drawings by Valentine Hugo (1887-1968), and one pastel drawing by Konstantin Alekseevich Korovin (1861-1939), as well as earlier pen and ink drawings attributed to Pierre-Jean Boquet (also known as Bocquet) and Daniel Rabel (approximately 1578-1637).

Series IV includes prints showing scene designs, mainly from Italian and French ballet productions, including designs by Alessandro Sanquirico (1777-1849) and Ferdinando Tacca (1619-1686), among others.

Biographical / Historical

Born in 1907 in Oakland, California, George Chaffee studied with ballet teachers in Europe and the United States, and became a professional ballet dancer by the 1930’s. He initially danced in the companies of Michel Fokine (1882-1942) and Mikhail Mordkin (1881-1944) before becoming a principle dancer of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York, New York, and then led his own chamber ballet company. He also performed on Broadway, dancing in Helen Goes to Troy in 1944. He had his own ballet studio off West 56th Street in New York, where he taught for thirty-three years, assisted by Adelaide Vernon, with students such as Alicia Alonso (1921-) and John Gilpin (1930-).

Chaffee was a historian and collector of ballet materials, collecting dance prints, including lithographs and engravings, as well as dance-related drawings, paintings, sculpture, and books. These resources date from ballet history beginning in the sixteenth century to the first decades of the twentieth century. He specialized in the French Romantic Ballet, presenting numerous lectures on the topic. He wrote a regular column, “Balletophile,” in Dance Magazine in the late 1940’s, as well as further articles on the history of dance in that same publication as well as Dance News, Lincoln Kirstein’s Dance Index, and the Dance Encyclopedia. In 1948, Chaffee organized “A Retrospective Exhibit of the French Court and Opera Ballet (1851 to 1948),” shown at the French Embassy in New York at the time of the Paris Opera Ballet’s first visit to the United States. He was decorated with the Palmes Academique by the French government in 1949 for his efforts.

Chaffee died 1984 October 19 in New York City, following a stroke.


Collection is arranged into the following four series: I. Dance portrait prints; II. Dance costumes, caricatures, groups, and scenes; III. Original drawings; IV. Scenography prints.

Physical Location

b, pfd (P1.C7.01.01 - P1.C7.01.03 [Folders 1-87]), ppf (P1.C7.01.04 [Folders 58, 82])

Custodial History

A portion of the collection was donated by George Chaffee, 1949 September. Further materials were acquired by the Harvard Theatre Collection from George Chaffee from 1950 until his death in 1984.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

No accession number. Donated by and acquired from George Chaffee in multiple stages from 1949 September to 1984.

Related Materials

Additional materials relating to George Chaffee as a ballet dancer, teacher, and collector can be found in various collections at Houghton Library, Harvard University. A group of historical volumes on the topic of ballet dating from the seventeenth to nineteen century, also donated by George Chaffee from 1949 to 1984, can be found at Houghton Library as well.

For additional drawings by Daniel Rabel, see: Daniel Rabel ballet drawings, 1625-1626 (MS Thr 1775). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

For additional prints of scenography, see: Harvard Theatre Collection Prints (Visual Works) Of Scenography, circa 1589-1840 (TCS 47). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Processing Information

Processed by Betts Coup, 2018 March.
Prior to processing, the collection was organized by groups of portraits; groups, caricatures, and scenes; original drawings; and scenography, and largely alphabetized. The archivist put all materials into new folders and boxes, and maintained much of this order, completing the alphabetization. Names and titles of works are listed as found on original folders, and are not necessarily standardized.
Link to catalog
Chaffee, George. George Chaffee collection of dance prints and original drawings, circa 1613-1921, undated (MS Thr 861): Guide.
2018 March 06
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. The library's holdings of primary source material are managed by an expert staff and shared with scholars, students and the public in the reading room.

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