Museum  June 27, 2019  Chandra Noyes

Off the Page and onto the Stage: Maurice Sendak's Designs for the Theater

© The Maurice Sendak Foundation. Photography by Graham Haber, 2018.

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Diorama of Moishe scrim and flower proscenium (Where the Wild Things Are), 1979-1983, watercolor, pen and ink, and graphite pencil on laminated paperboard. The Morgan Library & Museum, Bequest of Maurice Sendak, 2013.103:69, 70, 71.

For generations, children have been transported to a magical world of monsters and raucous parties by Maurice Sendak’s classic book Where the Wild Things Are. His fun romp through main character Max’s imagination has delighted readers since its publication in 1963, and it remains a classic, still voted by contemporary audiences as one of the greatest children’s books of all time.

© The Maurice Sendak Foundation. Photography by Janny Chiu.

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Study for Wild Things costume, with notes (Where the Wild Things Are), 1979, watercolor, pen and ink, and graphite pencil on paper. The Morgan Library & Museum, Bequest of Maurice Sendak, 2013.103:19.

While many are familiar with Sendak’s illustrations, be it through Where the Wild Things Are, or his other books, like In the Night Kitchen (1970) or Outside Over There (1981), fans may not know of his love of opera and the theater. A new exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum shows us this side of Sendak, who devoted his talents to the stage in addition to his books.

Born in 1928 in Brooklyn, Sendak knew from the age of 12 that he wanted to be an illustrator. He first worked on other author’s texts, such as Else Holmelund Minarik's Little Bear series, before becoming an author himself. His books were wildly popular, and Sendak went on to work with Jim Henson and Sesame Street, amongst others, creating a number of animated television shows for children.

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Design for show curtain (The Love for Three Oranges), 1981
© The Maurice Sendak Foundation. Photography by Janny Chiu.

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Design for show curtain (The Love for Three Oranges), 1981, watercolor and graphite pencil on paper. The Morgan Library & Museum, Bequest of Maurice Sendak, 2013.106:167.

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Design for show curtain (Nutcracker), 1983
© The Maurice Sendak Foundation. Photography by Janny Chiu.

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Design for show curtain (Nutcracker), 1983, gouache and graphite pencil on paper. The Morgan Library & Museum, Bequest of Maurice Sendak, 2013.107:262.

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Design for Temple of the Sun, finale II (The Magic Flute), 1979-1980
© The Maurice Sendak Foundation. Photography by Graham S. Haber.

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Design for Temple of the Sun, finale II (The Magic Flute), 1979-1980, watercolor and graphite pencil on paper on board. The Morgan Library & Museum, Bequest of Maurice Sendak, 2013.104:124.

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Design for show scrim (The Magic Flute), 1979-1980
© The Maurice Sendak Foundation. Photography by Janny Chiu.

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Design for show scrim (The Magic Flute), 1979-1980, watercolor and graphite pencil on paper on board. The Morgan Library & Museum, Bequest of Maurice Sendak, 2013.104:120.

In 1979, he adapted Where the Wild Things Are for the stage, bringing his story and illustrations to life. Sendak went on to design sets for numerous operas and ballets, including productions of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, Mozart's The Magic Flute, and Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. Through his set design sketches, costumes designs, and storyboards, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet reveals another side of this beloved author, in addition to showing us Sendak’s unique take on familiar characters and tales.

The first museum exhibition dedicated to Sendak’s set and costume designs, Drawing the Curtain offers us new insights into Sendak’s oeuvre. When the author and illustrator died in 2012, children’s literature lost one of its greatest voices. Here we can see a more complete vision of the artist, his inspirations and visions.

Installation view, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet
Morgan Library & Museum

Installation view, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet

Installation view, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet
Morgan Library & Museum

Installation view, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet

Installation view, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet
Morgan Library & Museum

Installation view, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet

Installation view, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet
Morgan Library & Museum

Installation view, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet

Installation view, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet
Morgan Library & Museum

Installation view, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet

Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet is on view at the Morgan Library & Museum through October 6, 2019.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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